The Greek philosopher Plato first described
Atlantis in the year 360 BC. I wasn’t around then, but ever since, people have been enamored
with this lost continent. What happened to it? What was it like? Did they eat cheeseburgers?
Did Atlantis ever even exist at all? Unfortunately, the answer to that last question
is probably no. Still, there might be some hope, as geologists
stumble across lost continents more often than you might think. Here are three sunken
lands that might hold you over until the fish people turn up.
Number One: Greater Adria We might as well start with the most recent
undersea discovery: a sunken continent lost beneath the waters of the Mediterranean Sea
called Greater Adria; and it’s a lot older than Atlantis is said to be.
As you probably remember from elementary school, all of the Earth’s landmass was once combined
into a single massive supercontinent known as Pangea. About two hundred million years
ago, I wasn’t around then, the continent split in two. The northern half, known as
Laurasia, would become Europe, Asia, and North America. Geologists call the southern landmass
Gondwana, and it would eventually split into what we now know as Africa, South America,
Australia, and Antarctica. While this was happening, a few chunks of
what would become Africa decided to jump ship and head back the way they came. The largest
of these chunks would form a continent known as Greater Adria, so named for its proximity
to the modern-day Adriatic Sea, between what is now Italy and the Balkans.
If you’re imagining a vast expanse of land similar in size to Africa, or at least Australia,
you may want to pull back a bit on your expectations. The continental plate might have been roughly
the size of Greenland, King of the Islands, but was actually divided into several smaller
landmasses, similar to the Caribbean. Greater Adria would’ve been a vast collection of
islands and coral atolls separated by shallow and warm tropical seas.
It’s too bad that Greater Adria sank almost two hundred million years before the first
proto humans walked the Earth. But I’m sure the theropods made good use of it.
Unfortunately for the dinosaur tourism industry, Greater Adria didn’t stick around. Most of
it sank into the Earth’s Mantle following a collision with mainland Europe not long
after its formation. Most of the tectonic plate submerged beneath the one Europe sits
on, with the remaining chunks being scooped up by southern Europe and western Asia.
This tectonic collision left lasting marks on the shape of Europe today. The Apennine
Mountain Range, which runs the length of the boot of Italy, wouldn’t exist without the
last vestiges of Greater Adria scraping off on the bottom of the Alps. Other remnants
would end up merging with the coastlines of Croatia, Greece, and Turkey, meaning that
there are still places where you can stand on a piece of this vanished landmass.
Finding this sunken landmass was no easy feat, and took years of research by geologists from
multiple countries. You see, southern Europe is what experts refer to as “a mess.”
That’s not a joke by the way. Doctor Douwe van Hinsbergen, who led the team that made
this discovery, described the region by saying, “It is quite simply a geological mess: everything
is curved, broken, and stacked.” He contrasted it with the Himalayas, which
have relatively few major fault lines stretching across the region. Europe, meanwhile, is a
mess of fragmented geological systems. It was only through the use of extensive surveys
and state of the art computer models that researchers could guess at what Greater Adria
once looked like, as well as where its fragments ended up. Researchers may even be able to
guess at what the region might look like in the distant future.
In addition to making geologists mouth’s water, locating the fragments of Greater Adria
also serves a more practical purpose. Van Hinsbergen believes that the mountain ranges
created by these continental shards could be unusually rich in mineral deposits. Locating
where they ended up could play a significant role in the future economy of the Mediterranean
region. Number Two: Zealandia
Greater Adria may be the most recent sunken continent to be discovered, but not the only
one by far. Aspiring geologists looking for another lost world might turn their attention
to the South Pacific, and the unassuming island nation of New Zealand.
Most people know it for sheep and Lord of the Rings movies, but this small mountainous
country is hiding a huge secret behind its green valleys and sweeping vistas.
New Zealand, like many islands, is little more than the top of a vast underwater mountain
range. What makes it different from other island groups is the sprawling sunken continent
reaching out in all directions from those central peaks.
Known as Zealandia, this submerged landmass sunk into the Pacific Ocean relatively recently,
having underwent its decent a mere twenty-three million years ago.
Zealandia is believed to have broken away from Australia around sixty to eighty-five
million years ago. I wasn’t around then, but with a total area of over one million
square miles, Zealandia is more than half the size of its parent continent and much
larger than Greater Adria. Another difference between the two is that
whereas Greater Adria was more of a group of islands, Zealandia would’ve been entirely
above water at one time. This vast landmass stretched northwest to southeast, roughly
perpendicular to modern New Zealand. Fossil records even indicate that there may have
been animals on the continent before it was swallowed up by the rising Pacific Ocean at
the end of the last ice age. Notably, if Zealandia had somehow remained
above sea level, its size and close proximity to Australia would have had a significant
impact on the other continent’s climate. The warm temperatures of Southeastern Australia
are due in large part to the East Australian Current carrying warm water from the tropics.
That’s right, the EAC can shape the landscape of an entire continent! Dude!
If Zealandia were above water, it would interrupt the EAC, hogging all that tropical warmth
for itself like the greedy landmass it is. This would result in places like Sydney, Australia
being much colder and dryer than they are today. It wouldn’t turn southern Australia
into an arctic tundra, but the continent might be more in line with North Dakota than the
subtropical paradise we know. Granted, this would have happened in the midst
of an ice age’s glacial period. If that were the case, I imagine everywhere would be a
lot colder, not just Australia. Can you think of any other simple changes
to history that would have enormous consequences? Why don’t you head down to the comments and
let me know? Number Three: Doggerland
Okay, so I have a confession to make. I’m kind of playing a bit fast and loose when
I call Doggerland a lost continent. Submerged isthmus just doesn’t have the same ring
to it, you know? What differentiates Doggerland from the first
two entries on this list is that it existed recently enough for humans to have set foot
on this lost land. We’re talking about thousands of years rather than millions.
I wasn’t around then, but at its greatest extent in the year 16,000 BC, this landmass
stretched from Denmark to France, and reached out to envelop the British Isles. It’s named
after Dogger Bank, a submerged plateau halfway between England and Denmark. Thousands of
years ago, this bank was part of a sprawling landmass connecting Britain to Mainland Europe.
Modern humans are known to have begun inhabiting the region between the years of 10,000 and
4,000BC, as evidenced by the discovery of flint and bone tools on the floor of the English
Channel. And let’s not forget our closest biological relatives, the Neanderthals, who
inhabited the region around forty thousand years ago, and a couple of which I went to
high school with. As with all good things, Doggerland eventually
came to an end. And as with Zealandia, it was receding glaciers and rising sea levels
that did this landmass in. In this case, they were likely assisted by a massive tsunami
that’s believed to have struck the region in the 6200s BC, devouring much of the northern
coastline. Dogger Bank managed to hold out a bit longer
than the rest of the subcontinent, remaining above water until at least the year 5000BC.
If there’s any good news for Doggerland, it’s that it’s possibly the most well-known
continent on this list. It even warranted a mention in a story by famed British author
H. G. Wells, not something many submerged landmasses can boast.
And before anyone asks, no. As awesome as it would be, there’s no evidence Doggerland
was home to an unusual number of dogs. I wasn’t around then.
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