Scientists believe they have uncovered an astonishing geological secret: A submerged continent hidden under Iceland, which they now call "Icelandia."
Iceland, according to a new theory proposed by an international team of geophysicists and geologists, could be the last exposed remnant of a nearly Texas-sized continent that sank beneath the North Atlantic Ocean around 10 million years ago.
The team suggested that there was a similarly sized adjacent region to the west of what is now Britain and Ireland, dubbed as "Greater Icelandia." But according to them that territory has also sunk beneath the sea.
The theory contradicts long-held beliefs about the formation of Iceland and the North Atlantic, but the researchers claim it explains both the geological features of the ocean floor and why the Earth's crust beneath Iceland is much thicker than it should be.
"The region that's got continental material underneath, it stretched from Greenland to Scandinavia," said Gillian Foulger, lead author of "Icelandia."
If confirmed, it means that the huge supercontinent of Pangaea, which was assumed to have broken up about 50 million years ago, was not completely broken up.
The discovery of continental crust, rather than oceanic crust, could potentially ignite discussions about a new source of minerals and hydrocarbons, both of which are found in the continental crust.
"When we considered the possibility that this thick crust is continental, our data suddenly all made sense," Foulger said in a statement. "This led us immediately to realize that the continental region was much bigger than Iceland itself - there is a hidden continent right there under the sea."
The research team is now collaborating with partners from around the world on studies to test their theory, which will begin as soon as Covid-19 constraints allow.
This research has significant legal and political implications, as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea grants coastal states exclusive rights to the nonliving resources of their adjacent seabed if scientists can demonstrate that the seabed is a submerged extension of the continental landmass.