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'Icelandia' – Is Iceland the tip of a vast, sunken continent?

A team of experts led by Professor Gillian Foulger from our Department of Earth Sciences, believes they have identified a remarkable geological secret; a sunken continent hidden under Iceland and the surrounding ocean, which they have dubbed ‘Icelandia’.

'Icelandia' – Is Iceland the tip of a vast, sunken continent?
Credit: University of Durham

The sunken continent could stretch from Greenland all the way to Europe, covering an area of around 600,000 km2. But, when adjoining areas west of Britain are included in a “Greater Icelandia” the entire area could be ~ 1,000,000 km2 in size. 

If proven, it means that the giant supercontinent of Pangaea, which is thought to have broken up over 50 million years ago, has in fact not fully broken up.  

This new theory challenges long-held scientific ideas around the extent of oceanic and continental crust in the North Atlantic region, and how volcanic islands, like Iceland, formed.  

The presence of continental, rather than oceanic, crust could also spark discussions about a new source of minerals and hydrocarbons, both of which are contained in continental crust.  

'Icelandia' – Is Iceland the tip of a vast, sunken continent?
A revolutionary new geological theory has proposed that Iceland is just the tip of a vast, sunken
 continent — a fragment of the former supercontinent of 'Pangaea'. Pictured: a bathymetric map
of the seafloor around Iceland, showing the continental edges (the magenta line) proposed
extent of Icelandia (magenta) and the Greater Icelandia area (beige)
[Credit: Geological Society of America]

The research team is now working with collaborators from across the globe on work to test their theory, which will begin once Covid-19 restrictions allow.  

This work could involve electrical conductivity surveys and the collection of zircon crystals in Iceland and elsewhere.  

Other tests such as seismic profiling and drilling would need millions of pounds to fund, but such is the importance of this work that funding may well be forthcoming.  

The chapter, Icelandia, by Foulger, Gernigon, and Geoffroy is part of In the Footsteps of Warren B. Hamilton: New Ideas in Earth Science.

Source: Durham University [June 29, 2021]

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