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-   -   Why is Greenland considered an island but not Eurasia? (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=860165)

Jim B. 08-09-2018 12:53 PM

Why is Greenland considered an island but not Eurasia?
 
Re: Why is Greenland considered an island but not Eurasia?, isn't this continent/island thing rather arbitrary anyways?

I mean, Europe and Asia are separate continents, yet they are the same landmass. And some people think Australia is actually the largest island.

BTW, Cecil Adams did cover this subject once. But I can't get the darn search function to work. I know in one article, he mentions this fact, along with a joking reference to Yul Brenner's wazoo, if that is any help. (I am only including that last part, if anyone else wants to try a search of their own.)

:):):)

TroutMan 08-09-2018 01:25 PM

Nm, misread this.

Jim B. 08-09-2018 01:35 PM

Well, I can't find the Cecil Adams column.

But I did find this staff report, that basically says the same thing.

Finally, I got the search function to work. And not a moment too soon.

But please feel free to continue with the discussion.:)

fedman 08-09-2018 04:05 PM

technically, Europe is not separate from Asia; second, why is Australia a continent and not island?

Chronos 08-09-2018 04:42 PM

Simple answer: Because Australia is larger than an island. We had to draw the line somewhere, and Australia and Greenland happened to fall on opposite sides of it. If we had drawn the line elsewhere, we'd instead be asking "Why is Antarctica a continent but Australia only an island?", or "why is Greenland a continent but Madagascar only an island?", or whatever.

Yllaria 08-09-2018 05:01 PM

Although the question mentioned the word 'seven' a few times, the answer didn't. Which is a pity. It's entirely possible that "we" chose a size for continents that would give us seven of them. "We" seem to like sevens.

Telemark 08-09-2018 05:26 PM

Also, Australia is 4 times larger than Greenland - http://www.mylifeelsewhere.com/count...alia/greenland

Yllaria 08-09-2018 05:30 PM

My favorite comparison map shows that Greenland is about 3 Texases. It's the third down here: https://www.businessinsider.com/map-...g-size-2013-12

aldiboronti 08-09-2018 05:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Yllaria (Post 21137920)
Although the question mentioned the word 'seven' a few times, the answer didn't. Which is a pity. It's entirely possible that "we" chose a size for continents that would give us seven of them. "We" seem to like sevens.

Indeed we do, as witness the equally arbitrary Seven Seas.

Chronos 08-09-2018 05:43 PM

But weren't Europe, Asia, and Africa considered separate continents even before the discovery of the others? Splitting up Eurasia is the only really contentious decision in the lot.

Yllaria 08-09-2018 05:48 PM

I don't know if they were considered continents so much as they were considered lands. If that makes sense.

Musicat 08-09-2018 06:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Yllaria (Post 21137966)
My favorite comparison map shows that Greenland is about 3 Texases.

If Texas were surrounded by water, it'd be an island.

DSYoungEsq 08-09-2018 09:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chronos (Post 21137981)
But weren't Europe, Asia, and Africa considered separate continents even before the discovery of the others? Splitting up Eurasia is the only really contentious decision in the lot.

Yes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contin...of_the_concept

Basically, Asia and Europe were separate to the Greeks because when the concept originated, they WERE separate, with the Aegean, Bosporus/Dardanelles and Black Sea in between them. It's only after the term ἤπειρος became extended inward from the shores, and exploration established that the Black Sea was bounded, that the concept of Europe and Asia as different landmasses ran into some difficulties.

watchwolf49 08-10-2018 08:30 AM

Greenland is connected to North America, and floats along with it ... Australia isn't connected to nobody and selfishly floats around on it's own ... indeed, this logic makes New Zealand a continent, just most of it is underwater ...

DSYoungEsq 08-10-2018 10:51 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by watchwolf49 (Post 21138856)
Greenland is connected to North America, and floats along with it ... Australia isn't connected to nobody and selfishly floats around on it's own ... indeed, this logic makes New Zealand a continent, just most of it is underwater ...

Actually, New Zealand is at the boundary of the Australian plate with the Pacific plate. More than half of it is on the Australian plate. Thus, your statement isn't really grounded in fact.

Australia has its own tectonic plate (the island of New Guinea shares that plate, which is why that island is often considered part of the Australian "continent"). As you note, Greenland doesn't, which is one good reason to consider Greenland part of North America, rather than a separate landmass.

watchwolf49 08-10-2018 12:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq (Post 21139136)
Actually, New Zealand is at the boundary of the Australian plate with the Pacific plate. More than half of it is on the Australian plate. Thus, your statement isn't really grounded in fact.

Australia has its own tectonic plate (the island of New Guinea shares that plate, which is why that island is often considered part of the Australian "continent"). As you note, Greenland doesn't, which is one good reason to consider Greenland part of North America, rather than a separate landmass.

It's seems that the floor of the Tasmanian Sea which separates Australia and Zealandia is composed of oceanic crust material rather than continental crust material, although this fact alone doesn't define these as two separate continents ... however both Australia and Zealandia are moving in different directions, Australia northeast towards the East Indian triple conjunction and Zealandia northwest towards Australia and consistent with the motion of the Pacific Plate ...

Without an exact scientific definition of "continent", we're left with opinion ... and all my citations are from New Zealand and we can guess what their opinion is ... if New Zealanders want to call themselves a separate continent, who are we to say otherwise? ...

Is Central America part of North American continent or part of South America ... Panamanians will tell you the canal is what separates the two continents ...

Horatio Hellpop 08-11-2018 08:22 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by watchwolf49 (Post 21139300)
Is Central America part of North American continent or part of South America ... Panamanians will tell you the canal is what separates the two continents ...


Panama was considered part of South America through most of the 19th Century, as it was part of Colombia. Continents are more social/political constructs than physical ones.

The westernmost part of Kazakhstan is technically part of Europe, even though it's east of Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia, which are generally considered part of Asia.

Blank Slate 08-11-2018 12:03 PM

Quote:

I don’t have my atlas in front of me, but I’d venture to guess that Greenland is even smaller than The Middle East, so even if you’re a follower of the new upstart cartographers who consider the Middle East to be a continent (as well as communism an ideal economic situation) Greenland still wouldn’t qualify.
Don't strain yourself, SDSAB dude. That has to be the worst Straight Dope column ever written.

susan 08-12-2018 12:53 PM

Why is Neptune a planet but Pluto isn't? Again, the categorical line gets drawn somewhere. I presume Europe/Asia was grandfathered in because it's an old us-and-them cultural distinction.

glowacks 08-12-2018 09:33 PM

Take a look at the areas of all the largest land masses on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_islands_by_area

(in millions of square km, to 2 significant digits)
Africa-Eurasia: 85 (30 Africa, 55 Eurasia (10 Europe, 45 Asia))
America: 43 (25 North, 18 South)
Antarctica: 14
Australia: 7.6
Greenland: 2.1
New Guinea: .79
Borneo: .75
Madagascar: .59

If one takes the actual land masses and ignores the human division into separate landmasses due to isthmuses, then it looks like Australia-Greenland is the best dividing line, at somewhat greater than 3.5 times. America is only just over 3 times as large as Antarctica, and is readily divisible into two separate land masses not much larger than the southern polar continent themselves. But there's still a big difference between Greenland the next largest islands, not really all that much smaller than the multiplicative difference between Greenland and Australia. After that the islands get smaller much more slowly and there's no good dividing lines at all other than maybe Sumatra(443k) at around twice the size of Honshu(226k). But Sumatra, Madagascar, Borneo, and New Guinea don't exactly feel all that more major than Honshu, Great Britain, Sulawesi (Celebes), Java, Luzon (Philippines), Newfoundland, Cuba, Iceland and the two main New Zealand islands, although maybe one could make an argument they are, and should be classified as a "Major Island" or something. Other than some sparsely populated ones in northern Canada that no one cares about, that's it for 100k km^2 land masses. After that is the second largest of the Philippines (Mindanao), Ireland, Hokkaido, Hispaniola, Sakhalin, Sri Lanka, Tasmania, Terra Del Fuego, and the largest island in the Amazon Delta (Marajo), which are all for 40k or more neglecting more ones in very cold areas no one cares about much. No real lines to draw anywhere there.

I propose the following nomenclature:

Major continents: Africa-Eurasia, America
Middling continents: Antarctica, Australia
Minor continent: Greenland
Major Island: New Guinea, Borneo, Madagascar, Sumatra

But really, artificially separating New Guinea, Borneo, and Sumatra out from Java and Sulawesi seems strange.

dtilque 08-14-2018 06:43 PM

As far as New Zealand goes, current thinking is that it is indeed part of a continent: Zealandia

Colibri 08-15-2018 12:10 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by watchwolf49 (Post 21139300)
Is Central America part of North American continent or part of South America ... Panamanians will tell you the canal is what separates the two continents ...

That's quite wrong. No Panamanian would say that. Latin Americans and many Europeans consider the Americas to comprise a single continent, rather than to be divided into two. Panamanians who live on either side of the canal certainly don't consider themselves to live on different continents.

Geologically speaking, Costa Rica and Panama originally comprised a separate island arc that formed between North and South America, and so technically belong to neither. However, they became attached to North America as a peninsula long before they collided with South America. And northwestern Colombia is actually part of of that same geological structure, and so if one demarcated the boundary between North and South America geologically then that area would best be considered part of North America. (Also, a large chunk of Siberia also belongs to North America, geologically speaking.)

As with planets, continents were defined in antiquity according to non-scientific criteria. Trying to retroactively define continents scientifically is pointless. Continents are defined culturally.

As has been said, the boundary between the smallest continent and largest island is arbitrary. The largest gap in size is between Australia and Greenland, so it's convenient to place the dividing line there.

TriPolar 08-15-2018 12:25 AM

Did it ever say anywhere that a continent had to be an entire contiguous landmass?

Sloe Moe 08-15-2018 04:08 AM

In just one of the many opinion sites, there were four reasons:

1. Australia and Antarctica are geologically distinct continental land mass while Greenland is just a minor accretion from North America, the same way the British Isles and Borneo appear to be subordinated to the European landmass and the Asian landmass, respectively.

2. AA have unique flora and fauna while G doesn't (iffiest reason.)

3. AA have unique cultures while G doesn't (what???)

4. Local opinion: mixed sentiments for AA but consistent "island" pronouncement for G
***

# 1 already looks good to me, though I'm not an Earth scientist.

Colibri 08-15-2018 11:27 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sloe Moe (Post 21147579)
1. Australia and Antarctica are geologically distinct continental land mass while Greenland is just a minor accretion from North America, the same way the British Isles and Borneo appear to be subordinated to the European landmass and the Asian landmass, respectively.

However, North America is linked to Eurasia by continental shelf in exactly the same way that North America is linked to Greenland. By that argument, Eurasia and the Americas are a single continent. (And as I mentioned above, eastern Siberia is geologically part of North America.)

As I said, any attempt to come up with a scientific definition of continent that conforms to the traditional number of continents (even if one considers Eurasia to be a single continent) is doomed to failure. Any such definition will either have exceptions or inconsistencies, or will be completely artificial. Continents are basically whatever we say they are; there is no scientifically valid definition.

DSYoungEsq 08-15-2018 11:46 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dtilque (Post 21146887)
As far as New Zealand goes, current thinking is that it is indeed part of a continent: Zealandia

Current thinking by some scientists. It's not even universally accepted by scientists in the field. :rolleyes:

Chronos 08-15-2018 11:52 AM

I still think it's absurd to consider "The Americas" to be a single continent, especially if you're also considering Europe and Asia as separate. If you try to cut the outline of the Americas out of a piece of paper, it's going to fall apart somewhere in the vicinity of Panama. Likewise, if you try to cut out Eurasiafrica, Africa is going to fall off. But no way is Eurasia going to come apart.

Colibri 08-15-2018 02:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq (Post 21148207)
Current thinking by some scientists. It's not even universally accepted by scientists in the field. :rolleyes:

Actually, it's the geologists' version of clickbait. The authors get more attention by making such an extraordinary claim. Given that there is no standard definition of a "geological continent," identifying Zealandia as one is ridiculous. I'm surprised a journal like the GSA would have published something like that.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chronos (Post 21148229)
I still think it's absurd to consider "The Americas" to be a single continent, especially if you're also considering Europe and Asia as separate. If you try to cut the outline of the Americas out of a piece of paper, it's going to fall apart somewhere in the vicinity of Panama. Likewise, if you try to cut out Eurasiafrica, Africa is going to fall off. But no way is Eurasia going to come apart.

Your problem is that you are expecting the definition of continents to make sense.;)

dtilque 08-15-2018 03:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq (Post 21148207)
Current thinking by some scientists. It's not even universally accepted by scientists in the field. :rolleyes:

Maybe it's just a dwarf continent....

John W. Kennedy 08-15-2018 07:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TriPolar (Post 21147439)
Did it ever say anywhere that a continent had to be an entire contiguous landmass?

You could write a whole book about the subject, and the answer would be different in different languages and at different times. 300 years ago, in English, there were only two “continents”, the Old World and the New World. But the seven-continent system is the one that is current in English today.

By the way, the word continent is related to the word contain.

Tibby 08-18-2018 09:09 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq (Post 21139136)
Actually, New Zealand is at the boundary of the Australian plate with the Pacific plate. More than half of it is on the Australian plate. Thus, your statement isn't really grounded in fact.

Australia has its own tectonic plate (the island of New Guinea shares that plate, which is why that island is often considered part of the Australian "continent"). As you note, Greenland doesn't, which is one good reason to consider Greenland part of North America, rather than a separate landmass.

Indeed, tectonically speaking, Australia is no innocent lone wanderer. It’s taken other, non-consenting countries for a ride—kidnapped them, so to speak.

Let’s face it, Australia is a bad country. Very bad! It keeps me up late at night thinking of those innocent acting Australians smugly eating their meat pies and pavlova (I heard they put Vegemite in it when they serve it to foreigners) and riding their kangaroos, knowing they’ve taken innocent countries hostage. And, if we go over there to get them to confess, they’ll sic their funnel web spiders on us!

Boozahol Squid, P.I. 08-20-2018 11:40 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by susan (Post 21142641)
Why is Neptune a planet but Pluto isn't? Again, the categorical line gets drawn somewhere. I presume Europe/Asia was grandfathered in because it's an old us-and-them cultural distinction.

That's a totally different animal. The continent/island distinction is totally arbitrary, consisting of "these seven landmasses are continents, everything else is an island." Pluto was downgraded to a planetoid because astronomers realized it didn't actually fit their definition of a planet.

I realize that definition itself is somewhat arbitrary itself, but it's at least a standard against which you can determine whether a new object would fit. If Atlantis rose from the seafloor, and it was much, much larger than Greenland, but just a bit smaller than Australia, we'd probably calling it a continent and ruining our old definition.

Chronos 08-20-2018 04:04 PM

Astronomers realized that Pluto didn't fit their definition right after they changed the definition in such a way as to exclude Pluto.

Stranger On A Train 08-20-2018 05:01 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chronos (Post 21157985)
Astronomers realized that Pluto didn't fit their definition right after they changed the definition in such a way as to exclude Pluto.

To be fair, there really wasn’t a formal or technically rigorous definition of what characteristics make a planet prior to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) definition in August 2006, and any application of rules that would make Pluto a planet would also have to included at least a significant number of other Solar-orbiting bodies and potentially several moons. The current IAU definition is sensible as far as it goes, although for utility in planetary science they really need to be divided into finer categories based upon functional characteristics (size, composition of the atmosphere and lithosphere, absence or presence of water and organic compounds, et cetera).

Although there is no rigorous definition of a continent from a purely geographic standpoint beyond being arbitrarily large land masses, in terms of anthropology continents have distinct population groupings, hence why the modern identification of human “races” roughly corresponds to the continents of origin. The “native” Greenlanders are Inuits who settled there in the 13th and 14th centuries, so from an ethnographic view there is no unique Greenlandic “race”. Of course, race has no rigorous scientific definition either, and of course there are no natives on Antarctica. So, ultimately, Greenland’s designation of being an island rather than a continent is mostly arbitrary.

Stranger

DPRK 08-20-2018 05:38 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chronos (Post 21157985)
Astronomers realized that Pluto didn't fit their definition right after they changed the definition in such a way as to exclude Pluto.

Old (though not ancient, for obvious reasons) lists of planets prominently include Ceres and its ilk. So striking such objects off the list of "major planets" (and precedent for tweaking the definition) to keep the list short definitely predates anything to do with Pluto.

FoieGrasIsEvil 08-20-2018 06:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Yllaria (Post 21137966)
My favorite comparison map shows that Greenland is about 3 Texases. It's the third down here: https://www.businessinsider.com/map-...g-size-2013-12

Which begs the question "Why is Texas it's own country"?

:)

Ají de Gallina 08-23-2018 10:30 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Colibri (Post 21147415)
That's quite wrong. No Panamanian would say that. Latin Americans and many Europeans consider the Americas to comprise a single continent, rather than to be divided into two. Panamanians who live on either side of the canal certainly don't consider themselves to live on different continents.

Geologically speaking, Costa Rica and Panama originally comprised a separate island arc that formed between North and South America, and so technically belong to neither. However, they became attached to North America as a peninsula long before they collided with South America. And northwestern Colombia is actually part of of that same geological structure, and so if one demarcated the boundary between North and South America geologically then that area would best be considered part of North America. (Also, a large chunk of Siberia also belongs to North America, geologically speaking.)

As with planets, continents were defined in antiquity according to non-scientific criteria. Trying to retroactively define continents scientifically is pointless. Continents are defined culturally.

As has been said, the boundary between the smallest continent and largest island is arbitrary. The largest gap in size is between Australia and Greenland, so it's convenient to place the dividing line there.

At least this Latin American (and most Peruvians) were taught unitl 20 years ago or so that there were actually THREE continents in the "American landmass" : North (Canada US Mexico) Central (From Guatemala to Panama) and South America.

It was an educational mini-revolution to go down to TWO continent (North and South) and even then, for political and cultural reason, nobody really thinks that Nicaragua or Costa Rica are really in North America in the same way that when your say "Asian" you don't think Armenian or Yemeni.

Also, for good measure, we were taught (and many books still teach it) that Oceanía was a continent made of all the Pacific islands plus Australia and New Zealand. Interesting enough, the Caribbean was either forgotten or lumped into Central America.


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