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Weird Science: Continent Confusion

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices


Image caption

SF Fig. 1.2. This map series shows some of the disagreements over the number of continents. All the land that is one color is considered one continent. It shows the earth’s landmasses divided into five, six and seven continents. Image is animated.

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Image from Wikipedia

Continents can be just as difficult to define as ocean basins (see SF Fig. 1.2). Continents can be defined based on plate tectonics, political boundaries, or historical custom. Geographers may point to political and historical differences and designate Europe and Asia as separate continents, whereas a geologist may note the lack of a water boundary between the two continents, take into account that both Europe and Asia are on the same tectonic plate, and designate them as one continent—Eurasia. Most students in the United States learn that North America and South America are different continents, whereas most European and Latin American students are taught that they are one American continent.

Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.