Greater Adria lost and found: Scientists have found a continent wedged under southern Europe


Ever been for a holiday to the Mediterranean region – Italy, Turkey, Greece
or Croatia? If yes, then chances are that you may have been standing on the
remaining parts of Greater Adria, a continent that was lost! 

The News: Recently scientists with Utrecht University in the Netherlands have uncovered a lost continent called Greater Adria hiding under Europe.

How did scientists uncover this lost continent? They uncovered this lost continent while studying the complex history of rocks in the Mediterranean region and how they have changed over time. They published a detailed study in the ‘Gondwana Research journal’.

The context: 300 million years ago, Earth had one supercontinent called Pangea. Over time, due to plate tectonics, Pangea split up into two large landmasses, Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south. As the plates continued to move, these landmasses split up further causing the continents and oceans we know today.

What is plate tectonics? The Earth’s outer layer is broken into 7-8 large plates and some smaller ones. All of Earth’s land and water rest on these plates. The plates are made of solid rock. Under the plates is a weaker layer of partly melted rock. The plates are always moving over this weaker layer.

The plates move towards, away and over each other. This interaction between the plates causes continental drift, earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, and oceanic trenches.

Reconstruction of the lost continent Greater Adria - mountain range formation and plate tectonics in the Mediterranean region integrally studied for the first time @UUEarthSciences
Reconstruction of the lost continent Greater Adria – mountain range formation and plate tectonics in the Mediterranean region integrally studied for the first time

Where has Greater Adria been all this while?

The story of Greater Adria begins nearly 240 million years ago when shifting plates caused a landmass to break off from Gondwana (now Northern Africa). About 140 million years ago, it was the size of Greenland, mostly submerged in a shallow tropical sea and slowly drifting northwards.

Then 120 million years ago, it collided with what’s now Europe. The collision of two plates resulted in a large portion of Greater Adria getting buried in the earth’s mantle under Europe and the top layer getting crinkled up to form the foundation and rocks of mountain ranges across 30 countries in Europe and the Middle East.

Lead researcher on this project, Professor Douwe van Hindsbegen explains the process in a very simple way – “Wear a thick full sleeve sweater and try to push your arm under a table, the sleeves will crumple up as your arms go under. That’s exactly what
happened in this region.”

Remnants of Greater Adria in the Taurus Mountains (Utrecht University) Read more: Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
Remnants of Greater Adria in the Taurus Mountains (Utrecht University)

Where is Greater Adria today? The only visible strips and pieces of the continent are limestones and other rocks found in the mountain ranges of southern Europe.

Written by: Preetika Soni. Preetika is a full – time toddler mommy. In the time that is left, she enjoys writing, photography and crochet. She has worked with NDTV, Mumbai and has taught at SCMSophia. 

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