And then I sank Atlantis.

View of the Strait of Gibraltar opening into t...

View of the Strait of Gibraltar opening into the Mediterranean Sea, looking southeast from Gibraltar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve solved the mystery of Atlantis. (Well, okay, I have some plausible ideas.)

That’s the awesome thing about story research — you never know where it’s going to lead you.

I was writing a short story about Atlantis, and speculating a semi-plausible way for it to go as quickly as Plato related, and I started playing around with fissure rifts and earthquakes. Some Googling brought me to an account of how a rift in the African desert opened far more rapidly than previous theory had allowed and will eventually become a new ocean:

Using newly gathered seismic data from 2005, researchers reconstructed the event to show the rift tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. Dabbahu, a volcano at the northern end of the rift, erupted first, then magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began “unzipping” the rift in both directions, the researchers explained in a statement today.

…And such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events…. (Giant Crack in Africa Will Create a New Ocean)

If the land involved were an island, instead of a continent the size of Africa, then that rapid rift could be an even more serious hazard. And if the ocean came pouring in on either side of the rift as it opened, we could have a pretty serious situation in a hurry.

The alleged location of Atlantis is of course widely debated, ranging from near the Straits of Gibraltar to the Adriatic Sea, but I pulled up a map of tectonic faults in the Mediterranean region just to see how many there were. And — hand-rubbing glee — there are a lot. (Also, Europe may be slipping beneath Africa, bringing the potential for more earthquakes in the area. You’ve been warned.) So if Atlantis had sat upon such a fault, and it had opened rapidly beneath them, and the sea had poured in, the city could have been devastated nearly overnight. The Ethiopian rift started with a volcano and opened twenty feet wide and thirty-five miles long in just days.

Obviously there are a lot of unresolved questions yet, not least of which is Plato’s shady sourcing of his story and its extreme pre-history (reportedly about 9,000 BC). We can’t pretend to know the origins of the myth and how much, if any, is true. But such a natural disaster was at least plausible.

I’ve had a lot of fun geologic research lately. What next, I wonder?

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