What is a Continent

‘Continent’, is the term used to refer to the large mass of land that is separated from other landmasses by water bodies. This term derives its origin from the Latin word, ‘terra continens’, which means connected land. There are a total of 7 continents namely, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe and Australia. Experts are of the opinion that during the beginning of the planet’s history all the continents were joined and later due to the concept of ‘continental drift’, they separated into different continents with time. The interaction between the continents continues even now and the subject of ‘plate tectonics’ deals with this process.

The first attempt to divide the landmasses on the earth into continents was made by Greeks who termed Asia and Europe as two distinct units separated by Black Sea and Bosporus Strait. However, it is to be noted that among all the continents, only the continents of Australia and Antarctica are clearly separated from the rest of the continents. Among the various models of continents, the ‘seven continent model’ is the one that has gained acceptance all over the world.

The continents of Europe and Asia which were formerly known as Eurasia are considered as two separate units now, though there is no sea separating them.  There has been debate on the reason as to why Greenland is not considered a continent inspite of covering a land area of 2,166,086 square kilometers. Thus, one would not be wrong in telling that though there are certain conventions in separating continents, there are no standard set of rules that lay down the exact procedure for declaring a landmass as a continent.

The most populous continent is Asia, having a population of 4,164,252,000 followed by Africa with 1,022,234,000. This goes on to explain the reason as to why the highest number of developing countries is in these continents. The least populated continent is that of Australia having a population of around 100,00,000.It was only in the later part of the 18th century that North America and South America were given the status of separate continents. Confusion with regard to inclusion of some countries on the border with any particular continent has always been point of concern. But, at present the ‘seven continent model’ provides an answer to most confusions that arose in the olden times.

Though Australia was discovered in the early 17th century, till the late 18th century, many geologists thought it was right to include the landmass with Asia. However, owing to its distance from Asia and difference in the climate and other features, Australia was declared to be a separate continent. 

One should make sure that he does not confuse between the terms, continent and sub continent. The term, ‘subcontinent’, is used to refer to a smaller landmass within the continent; for instance Indian subcontinent that comprises of India and Pakistan.