Could someone give me an explanation – realistic or magical – as to what could cause a continent the size of, let's say Europe, to go rapidly underwater in a matter of 100-500 years?

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    $\begingroup$ All of Europe? Mont Blanc is 4800 meters tall... To place about half of Europe under water you would need a sea level rise of about 250 meters if your idea of Europe includes Belarus, Ukraine and western Russia, or about 300 meters if you are thinking only of western Europe. But then the question is tagged "magic". Magically, the continental crust could well sink into the mantle. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 1:53
  • $\begingroup$ Combination of global warming and plate tectonics perhaps. If the continental plates are shifting the right way, some mountains start to disappear, and it's possible that Europe could be lowered as well. BUT, that would result in massive earthquakes and volcanoes along the way. It wouldn't be a subtle process. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 1:56
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    $\begingroup$ Nothing realistic could cause this. Even a quick melting of all glaciers would only cause about a 300 ft/100 m rise. If using magic, of course, you're free to invent your own magic, and tie it as loosely to actual physics as you like. There are examples enough in literature: Noah's Flood, Plato's tales of Atlantis, Lyonesse of Celtic legends (and Jack Vance's fantasy epic), and more. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ As for Lyonesse (and Ys and other lost lands), these could be later recollections of actual places that existed during the immediate post-Iceage times around Britain. Doggerland, etc. that were once inhabited but later "sank" or were at any rate submerged by rising sea levels as the ice melted. Also, much of the Persian Gulf was dry land at that time and was flooded thereafter. As for a sunken continent, there is Tasmantis (aka Zealandia). Probably didn't sink in a hundred years, though! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 11:24
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    $\begingroup$ Is your land nearly entirely flat? Does it have mountains and valleys? Surely you have some idea of the world you want us to mess around with, if you don't specify you have people making your world for you like Will or Lio giving you specifics on how your landscape must be. If you leave it to us it isn't all your story anymore $\endgroup$
    – FreeElk
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 14:26

6 Answers 6


There is a difference between "underwater" and "below sea level", I'm assuming you mean underwater

You could have a land which is already below sea level but the erosion of/a rise in sea levels above a natural barrier that lets the water flood down over the continent.

Mountain holding back flood

In the image above obviously things are simplified, the lines wouldn't be so straight and the ocean beyond is huge but the idea is illustrated. Once the sea begins to flow over the mountain it will erode more quickly and let even more water through.

This solution requires no more magic than gravitational potential energy.

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    $\begingroup$ Something like this happened to the Mediterranean 5 million years ago. sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090211122529.htm. It was cut off at Gibraltar and dried up. Not sure what happened to the Black Sea in that scenario. Probably turned into a Dead Sea type thing. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ of course this will not work unless the entire continent is below sea level which is so unlikely a wizard did it is probably a more satisfying answer. neither one of these were continental crust after all. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ Something like this happened to the Netherlands not even that long ago at all (and to Lousianna all of a decade ago). The Netherlands built a massive levee system including the longest sluice-gate dam ever. It's closed during storm surges, but otherwise left open to allow sea life to pass through. Real Engineering did a video on it recently. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 7:55

The oceans are gradually displaced by mass falling into them or rising up into them.

Something like this is happening now with the collapse of antarctic ice shelves. When they collapse into the ocean, a bunch of the ice on land follows. That ice displaces water and can cause rapid sea level rise.

europe with 3m sea level rise


Climate change and the hole in the ozone layer could cause “a catastrophic collapse” of the vast amount of ice on west Antarctica, raising sea levels by 3.3 metres, a leading scientist has warned.

Following the calving of one of the largest icebergs ever known – about a quarter the size of Wales and weighing a trillion tonnes – Professor Nancy Bertler, of the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington, said global warming and the hole in the ozone layer had caused the sudden break-up of “numerous ice shelves” in the region “some of which have been shown to have existed for 10,000 years or more”. While these do not add to sea levels, their removal can significantly increase the speed of land ice flowing into the sea. And that process, Professor Bertler warned, could have serious effects on the planet.

Not sure I see how the ozone hole is part of this but ok.

You need more than just the ice shelves to get enough sea level rise to cover Europe or even Australia. Suppose you had an undersea range of volcanoes rising out of the ocean floor. As their bulk increases they occupy space in the water, displacing the remaining water. The level of water rises. To cover Europe you will need a landmass of greater volume under the ocean than the volume of Europe you want to submerge, because all of the water displacement will not go towards submerging one continent - it will spread around the globe. Fortunately you can add as much mass as you want at the bottom of the ocean, as fast or as slowly as you please, and raise the water level as much as you need for your purposes.


Emptying Magma Chambers Causing Plate to Settle

enter image description here Your continent could be floating on a very large magma chamber. Eruptions elsewhere in the region could empty the chamber, causing it to settle. Net result, the land mass peacefully slides to a lower elevation (possibly underwater)

Cooling Mantle Causing Plate to Settle

Alternatively, the entire mantle could cool causing settling of all plates. enter image description here


The plate that the continent is on could be subducting beneath another, dragging the plate to a lower elevation enter image description here

Rising Water

Melting ice caps or some sort of major shift adjusting the sear levels could drown the continent.

  • $\begingroup$ emptying a magma chamber that big would create a new continent out of the magma released. the only one of these that can sink an entire continent, cooling the mantle, would take millions of years. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 16:01

It may be important to understand what you want to be left after the submersion of the continent in question.

If the other continents are supposed to survive, that makes construction of the submersion incident more difficult. In that circumstance you may want to devise the quick movement of a subducting plate “in front” of the continent. But such a drastic movement would not leave the other continents unscathed.


I hope you pay close attention to the excellent naturalistic answers to your question.

With that in mind, I offer a magical explanation. The continent in question was created by an inconceivably ancient mage, whose power was such that he could create huge blocks of ectoplasm that materialized under the sea bed and expanded to make the sea bed rise above the water.

Since ectoplasm is a magical substance, its existence depends on the use of certain power objects in regular rituals. What if the power objects were stolen by an evil cult? What if misplaced skepticism caused the rituals to be neglected? In either or both cases, maybe the ectoplasm would weaken and vanish, causing the new continent to sink back to its natural place on the ocean floor--and destroy a civilization in the process! Yes!


Cosmic events

and it will happen well within the 100 year timescale:

  • a huge asteroid deciding to take a swim in the North Atlantic, causing a tsunami
  • a rogue planet passing earth closely causing huge gravitational tidal effects
  • prolongued unusually high solar activity, increasing radiation and melting the icecaps

also, and i'm not sure about the possible timescale on this,

  • a meteor shower bringing new water to the planet

and finally, most winters will place Europe under water each year,

  • by covering it with snow ;)

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