Fifty five million years ago, about 10 million years after the last dinosaur disappeared, a small continent erupted just north of the coast of Scotland, and for a million years, was a verdant land, with green rolling hills and sparkling rivers. And then just as quickly as it appeared, it was swallowed up by the sea. It’s the kind of thing that seems like it comes right out of Scottish lore, except that there weren’t people around at the time, but someone will still manage to connect this to Atlantis and aliens.
Intriguingly, the timing of formation of the ancient landscape west of the Orkney–Shetland Islands coincides with a global climatic event known as the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum - a period of rapid and extreme global warming. Triggers of this climatic event are unclear, but could be linked to the release of large quantities of methane stored in sediments on the sea bed. Uplift of the sea bed would have caused the methane stored in the ocean floor to become unstable, triggering its release into the atmosphere. Pulses of hot mantle rising up in the Iceland mantle plume therefore provide a viable mechanism to elevate the sea floor at this time. Furthermore, about 33–34 million years ago, the climate suddenly cooled causing the planet to undergo a transition from a greenhouse to an icehouse world. This climatic change has been linked to periods when activity in the Iceland plume was suppressed, causing the sea bed between Iceland and Greenland to subside.
In other words, this thermal anomaly sent a plume of superheated rock to the Earth’s surface, warming the waters and thawing the methane beneath them. Our lost continent rose to the surface as greenhouse gases filled the atmosphere, making the birth of this landmass into a veritable environmental apocalypse.
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