A Lost Continent Has Been Found Beneath Southern Europe

A Lost Continent Has Been Found Beneath Southern Europe

The continent, referred to as Greater Adria by researchers, broke off from North Africa around 140 million years ago, researchers say.

While the legend of the lost underwater continent of Atlantis is well-known, it remains a mere legend. However, new research shows that lost continents do exist, just not in the way we expected. While reconstructing the evolution of the Mediterranean region's geology, researchers discovered a hidden continent called Greater Adria. It is roughly the size of Greenland and lies buried under Southern Europe, having broken off from North Africa around 140 million years ago. In a paper published in early September in the journal Gondwana Research, Douwe van Hinsbergen, a geologist at Utrecht University, studied rocks around and beneath the Mediterranean Sea to reveal the full extent of Greater Adria for the first time. “It’s enormous! About the size and rough shape as Greenland,” he said. "Forget Atlantis," he told CNN, "Without realizing it, vast numbers of tourists spend their holiday each year on the lost continent of Greater Adria." 


The missing piece of land seemed to have separated itself from North Africa and was submerged under Southern Europe. Most of the sedimentary parts of the land mass were scraped away as the continent migrated. These scrapings currently form European mountain belts including parts of the Alps, Greece, and Turkey. Since the area is called Adria by geologists, researchers are referring to the previously undiscovered continent as Greater Adria. "Most mountain chains that we investigated originated from a single continent that separated from North Africa more than 200 million years ago," said van Hinsbergen, explaining that studying the evolution of mountain ranges can reveal how continents themselves have evolved. "The only remaining part of this continent is a strip that runs from Turin via the Adriatic Sea to the heel of the boot that forms Italy." Van Hinsbergen explained that unlike the Himalayas, for example, mountain belts in that region of Europe were formed rather differently. "It is quite simply a geological mess: Everything is curved, broken and stacked," said van Hinsbergen. "Compared to this, the Himalayas, for example, represent a rather simple system. There you can follow several large fault lines across a distance of more than 2,000 kilometers."


The researchers used plate tectonic reconstruction software to peel back layers and peek back into time to reveal what continents looked like in the far past. The research around the Mediterranean region required a lot of collaboration, since the area covers more than 30 countries, each with their own geological survey, maps and pre-existing ideas about how things formed. "From this mapping emerged the picture of Greater Adria, and several smaller continental blocks too, which now form parts of Romania, North Turkey or Armenia, for example," van Hinsbergen explained. "The deformed remnants of the top few kilometers of the lost continent can still be seen in the mountain ranges. The rest of the piece of continental plate, which was about 100 km thick, plunged under Southern Europe into the earth's mantle, where we can still trace it with seismic waves up to a depth of 1,500 kilometers."


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