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You may have visited the long-lost continent of Greater Adria without even knowing it

The long-lost continent of Greater Adria, which broke off from Northern Africa about 240 million years ago and began slipping beneath southern Europe about 100 million years ago. (Douwe van Hinsbergen, Utrecht University)

Scientists have identified the location of a long-lost continent, and you may have visited without knowing it.

A Greenland-size piece of continental crust called Greater Adria separated from North Africa about 240 million years ago, during the Triassic period. But long before humans came along, tectonic shifts forced the continent into the Earth’s mantle deep beneath Europe.

Greater Adria left clues about its whereabouts in the mountains of southern Europe, and geologists had known for some time that another continent had existed in the region. But now, after 10 years of study, an international team of researchers coordinated by Utrecht University in the Netherlands found the precise shape and location of the missing continent. This month, they published their findings in the journal Gondwana Research.

“Forget Atlantis,” lead author Douwe van Hinsbergen of Utrecht University wrote in a blog post announcing the findings. “Without realizing it, vast numbers of tourists spend their holiday each year on the lost continent of Greater Adria.”

Much like the mythical lost continent of Atlantis, much of Greater Adria was underwater and formed shallow tropical seas filled with large coral reefs. But that’s where the similarities end. It didn’t immediately disappear due to a natural disaster; instead, it was slowly devoured by southern Europe over millions of years.

Between 130 million and 100 million years ago, Great Adria began sliding beneath Europe, slipping under the Earth’s crust and diving into the mantle.

The scientists used a digital imaging tool called GPlates, which allowed them to reconstruct the movement of the tectonic plates in the region going back to the Triassic period, 240 million years ago. They deconstructed the region layer by geographic layer until they were finally able to identify Greater Adria’s location. Using seismic wave technology, they could measure its location to a depth of 932 miles beneath the Earth’s surface.

Most of Greater Adria might have been consumed by the Earth’s crust, but if you’ve traveled in certain parts of Europe, there’s a chance you’ve laid eyes on it.

As the continent slid under Europe, top layers of sedimentary rock scraped off and created the famous mountain belts of the Apennines in Italy, parts of the Alps, and ranges in the Balkans, Greece, and Turkey. Today, the only piece of the continent that remains is a small strip that runs from Turin in the north of Italy to the “heel” of the boot-shaped nation, a region already known by geologists as “Adria.”

In addition to scientific challenges, the research presented immense logistical obstacles.

“This is not only a large region, but it also hosts more than 30 countries,” Hinsbergen said in the announcement. “Each of these has its own geological survey, own maps, and own ideas about the evolutionary history. Research often stops at the national borders. Therefore, the region is not just fragmented from a geological perspective.”

Greater Adria is not the first “lost continent” to be found. In 2017, researchers discovered the fragments of an ancient supercontinent beneath Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean.

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