GeographyHistoryScience

Say hello to Greater Adria, a lost continent discovered under Europe

If you thought mankind had already discovered every landmass on Earth, think again. While studying plate tectonics and the formation of mountain ranges in the Mediterranean region, geologists taking part in a study led by Utrecht University discovered a lost continent nestled under Southern Europe. Roughly the size of Greenland, this "piece of continental crust" separated from North Africa and "plunged into the earth's mantle." Now that we know about it, we also know its name: Greater Adria.

That moniker is courtesy of Douwe van Hinsbergen, Professor of Global Tectonics and Paleogeography at Utrecht, who served as principal researcher on the study. "Forget Atlantis," he says in the published report. "Without realising it, vast numbers of tourists spend their holiday each year on the lost continent of Greater Adria."

Illustration of the Greater Adria continent
Credit: Utretcht University

"Most mountain chains that we investigated originated from a single continent that separated from North Africa more than 200 million years ago," van Hinsbergen continues. "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."

Greater Adria detached from North Africa some 140 million years ago, at which time most of it was underwater. The sedimentary rocks it was covered in were "scraped off" when the rest of it subducted into the mantle, and today those scrapings make up the mountain belts of the Apennines and parts of the Alps as well as Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans.

Photo of a mountainous landscape
Credit: VFKA/iStock

Becoming its own continent wasn't an easy process — it began 240 million years ago. Part of the reason that discovering Greater Adria was difficult is because it required the cooperation of more than 30 countries and their respective geological surveys, as well as the fact that the Mediterranean region is "quite simply a geological mess," as van Hinsbergen puts it. "Everything is curved, broken and stacked."

Great Adria joins the ranks of Gondwana and Zealandia, two other lost continents discovered under Mauritius and the South Pacific, respectively. If and when another "new" landmass will be found remains to be seen.

Cover image credit: FrankRamspott/ iStock