The Seven Continents

Updated September 9, 2022 | Beth Rowen

What is a continent?

A continent is defined as a large unbroken landmass completely surrounded by water, although in some cases continents are (or were in part) connected by land bridges. The seven continents of the world, as commonly cited in the United States and other English-speaking countries, are: North AmericaSouth AmericaEuropeAsiaAfricaAustralia, and Antarctica. The island groups in the Pacific Ocean (including Australia and New Zealand) are often called Oceania but this name does not imply that geologists or geographers consider them the remains of a single supercontinent--the grouping exists over several tectonic plates as well, making it a pretty unique grouping. 

These are the seven continents as typically defined:

Continent Approximate area Highest point Lowest point
Africa 11,608,000 square miles (30,065,000 sq km) Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania: 19,340 feet (5,895 m) Lake Assal, Djibouti: 512 feet (156 m) below sea level
Antarctica 5,100,000 square miles (13,209,000 sq km) Vinson Massif: 16,066 feet (4,897 m) Ice covering: 8,327 feet (2,538 m) below sea level
Asia (includes the Middle East) 17,212,000 square miles (44,579,000 sq km) Mount Everest, bordering China and Nepal: 29,035 feet (8,850 m) Dead Sea, bordering Israel and Jordan: 1,349 feet (411 m) below sea level
Australia (includes Oceania) 3,132,000 square miles (8,112,000 sq km) Mount Kosciusko, Australia: 7,316 feet (2,228 m) Lake Eyre, Australia: 52 feet (16 m) below sea level
Europe (Ural Mountains divide Europe from Asia) 3,837,000 square miles (9,938,000 sq km) Mount Elbrus, bordering Russia and Georgia: 18,510 feet (5,642 m) Caspian Sea, bordering Russia and Kazakhstan: 92 feet (28 m) below sea level
North America (includes Central America and the Caribbean) 9,449,000 square miles (24,474,000 sq km) Mount McKinley, Alaska, U.S.: 20,320 feet (6,194 m) Death Valley, California, U.S.: 282 feet (86 m) below sea level
South America 6,879,000 square miles (17,819,000 sq km) Mount Aconcagua, Argentina: 22,834 feet (6,960 m) Valdes Peninsula, Argentina: 131 feet (40 m) below sea level

What is a subcontinent?

A subcontinent is a large area of land that are attached to other continents, but are separate from the rest of the continent by plate tectonics. The Arabian Peninsula is a subcontinent, as is the Indian Subcontinent. Greenland, despite its size, is part of the North American continent.

Europe could also be considered a subcontinent, except for the fact that it's not a geological continent at all; most of Asia and Europe are both on a single Eurasian plate, with parts of Russia extending onto the North American plate. This is the origin of a popular continent model that groups the two as a single continent, Eurasia. By the same token, North and South America could be divided into three Americas, since the isthmus of Panama is on a separate plate from the rest of the continents.

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