I'm writing a novel with real-world-style settings and minimal magic.

Minimal magic... how can I explain this? The magic in the world is only as good as epoxy to a leaking pipe. The magic can't just make another pipe out of thin air nor instantly transform an entire network of water pipelines to one's will. Plus that minimal magic epoxy will disappear soon and the epoxy won't paste itself into the leak. Someone has to handle it properly.

My story also embraces game elements, albeit very minimal as well, and includes one of their more notorious features --- limiting players' explorable area at the start.

Deadliest waters guard the ruins of the fallen empires.

Therefore, my world is a 1:1 alternate Earth with the exceptions of minimal magic and the majority of the land mass is inaccessible, all being underwater saved for a few beginner-friendly areas.

While the novel has magic, I aim for a setting where science triumphs over magic. A fully realistic world built on modern knowledge... meaning there won't be "unlimited water" or "something super, super, super heavy"...

Question: Is there a scientifically-plausible way to sink a landmass?

  • The landmass must remain underwater for at least 1,000 years.
  • The transition to and from the flooded state need not be instantaneous.
  • The largest landmass considered is an entire tectonic plate.
  • The smallest landmass considered is a small island.


I read the comments and will answer some of your questions.

First. What kind of magic is possible? Anything. Fire magic. Ice magic. Healing magic. Predicting the future. Anything known as magical is accepted.

Second. So... magic or science? The method done to sink the islands can be either pure science, magical, or a mix of both. However, the effect must be bound to science. Think of magic as a highly inefficient, one-time effect. If there is a scientific counterpart, you're better off using science. Everything that comes after that, including its unintended consequences... science!

I know, it's weird, to be honest. I didn't include it here but in my setting,

Magic itself is dying. The gods have forsaken us!

The theme is the transition between magic to science.

Or you can completely disregard magic since scientific ways of sinking landmass alone are interesting enough. I'm thinking about scrapping the magic part lol.

[Last Edit]

I dunno how to close this post. Of course, everyone is welcome to post additional insights and responses. I want to declare that given the numerous answers I got, I decided to take the majority of them to appreciate and not waste their efforts, as well as in comparison to the fact that calamities/large-scale conflicts can have multiple causes that all contribute to the said effect such as flash floods, drought, economic recession, rebellion, et cetera.

I also know that this website acts professional, and as someone that puts a touch of informality as a gesture of friendliness and an intention of goodwill to everything I type, this website... isn't one I'm comfortable with. You might notice me again very soon here (but that time, maybe on the side of culture, tradition, history, archeology, and most likely biology), but if you noticed me, please be patient. And I do not know if this helps but thanks to everyone that contributed to this post.

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    $\begingroup$ Given how geology works sloooooowwly, My guess is it'd be easier to permanently sink lands than to have them underwater for a little thousand years ^^. Also expecting changes to be so big that saying it's an "alternate-Earth" is hard to say. I'm wondering something though : Can we assume that all you want to ask about is about sunk lands, not the fact the starting area is up while others are down? That magic is what makes the starting land stand above water so you don't care much about it? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ This entirely depends on how magic works in your world. Metaphors about epoxy and pipes are a great way to write about the magic of your world, assuming your world has epoxy, but that doesn't give anything concrete we can use to assess whether your ask is possible in your world or not. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings The asker asked specifically this : "is it possible to sink landmass while grounded by science". So no magic involved 🐦. I wondered about the inclusion of magic into a question which doesn't really want magic, too. Perhaps it would be clever to cleave some of the explanation of how magic works away to focus on science ^^. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena What does "Grounded by science" mean, in a world with some flavor of magic when we don't know what the magic can and cannot do? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ I like this question, so I've edited it to clarify the question. I believe I've retained the gist of your intent. However, there are two pieces of information you didn't have in your original: the minimum and maximum landmasses. This matters as sinking a single island might be more complex to justify than sinking a continent. Please edit your question and replace my question marks (???) with data. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 16:55

8 Answers 8


The Islands are not Rising, the Sea level is falling.

While the whole earth can not be under water, you can limit your game area to an archipelago where the starting island is slightly higher than the other islands you care about.

There are not many geological events this big that happen in human time scales, but there are some. Basically you just need is a large lake or in-land sea, and another dried out basin for it to flow into. For inspiration, lets look at the Black Sea. According to the Black Sea Deluge Hypothesis the contents of the Mediterranean sea poured into the Black Sea in as little as three hundred days at a rate that could have been in the realm of 50 km^3 per day. If your setting were in the middle of a large Mediterranean sized lake, then over the course of less than a year, you could see the water level drop by about 6 meters. This is plenty enough to open up land bridges and even un-sink entire islands.

If you want to tie this sort of thing to "Magic glue" it could be that a great wall was magically built at a place like the the Turkish Straits. The basin is well below sea level but gets very little rain; so, if cut off from the lake, it dries up. But, if some ancient wizards cut off the "Black Sea" to prevent a naval invasion, then a thousand years later when the magic wall fails, all of the water that has slowly evaporated away will be suddenly replaced with water from the the lake.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! Yeah, sinking everything might be too much. $\endgroup$
    – veir
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ "Over the course of less than a year, you could see the sea level drop by about 6 meters": Why would you? The Black Sea was not empty, it was a large freshwater lake, and the Mediterranean was connected to the global ocean. Even according to the wildest variant of the Black Sea Deluge Hypothesis, the pre-flood level of the Black Sea was not more than 80 meters below the level of the ocean. The Black Sea is only about 1/900 of the area of the ocean, so that filling the Black Sea by 80 meters of water would decrease the level of the ocean by not more than 10 cm (4 inches). $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP : the answer uses the Black Sea deluge as an example, to have something similar in the fictional world, and not necessarily a 1-to-1 exact replica. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 5:00
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    $\begingroup$ Or, if you want to sink something, look at the Zanclean flood hypothesis, in which (in some interpretations) the Mediterranean basin filled in over the course of 1-2 years after a catastrophic breach of a natural dam at the Strait of Gibraltar. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 8:39


You don't need to create a reason for why a whole landmass might be sinking into the water... because real people already done that!

Tom Scott - The pumps that must run forever or part of Germany floods

As the great Tom Scott explains in his video about the Ruhr Valley in north west Germany, basically people spent a century digging kilometer deep tunnels and piling the resulting dirt in massive mounds on the surface. The now Swiss-cheese landscape is slowly being squashed under the weight of everything above it as it tries to become fully solid once again. The end result is that without a couple MegaWatts worth of pumps running flat out, a number of towns and cities would flood, and would likely stay flooded forever.

There's nothing stopping the same thing from happening to an island or an entire continent (other than the truly mind-boggling scale that'd be required to sink an entire continent). When you start talking about things on the scale of mountains, "the ground"[Citation needed] starts behaving more like play-doh and will flow over time as gravity tries to homogenise everything (it's the same process that makes planets round afterall)

TLDR; Dig heaps of underground tunnels everywhere - Gravity will do the rest

Bonus points if the landmass in question was only slightly above sea level to begin with and you had serious climate change issues in the past (remember, water expands as it warms up)


You could consider something like isostatic readjustment - due to glacial action. The weight of a glacier on top of a continent will depress the continent; essentially, this pushes the continent into the underlying mantle until isostasy is reached. Then the glacier melts and this will cause eustatic sea level rise as a consequence. However, the continent will now rise from its depressed position, because the great load weight above it has now melted away. Therefore, the continent achieves isostasy within the Earth in a new position that is more prominent relative to the surrounding oceans and seas. This process can occur in thousands of years rather than millions of years too.

  • $\begingroup$ Ohh, never thought of that. Ice is heavier than water. Now I have imagined the settings: world-scale ice magic froze the continents and sank them altogether save for a few miracles that avoided it. As the absolute rule of magic applies: there is no absolutee magic, the cold graveyard of civilizations will soon be rekindled by fire and will undo the 1000 years of waiting. Soon, they will return to the realms of the livings. Hopefully. $\endgroup$
    – veir
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ @JoerenzEspillardo Ice is actually less dense than water. (That's why, unlike basically any other substance, solid water floats on liquid water.) The difference is, ice can pile up but water can't. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 15:53

. . . that minimal magic epoxy will disappear soon. . .

The landmass is inaccessible because it is underwater. It is underwater because 1000 years ago the greatest wizards in the world came together to cast a big spell to melt the ice-caps and raise the sea levels.

Some people suspect the reason magic is so garbage these days is because the Council of Wizards used it all up with their big spell.

Even using 1000 years worth of juice, the Council's spell is running out and sea level is returning to normal. By the end of their 1000 years the continents have returned to their real world version.

This is all discovered when the characters get access to the South Pole. They find a tiny little stone monument protruding from the ice. Turns out this is the tip of a miles-tall Council Tower, embedded in the ice. Complete with full library and crystalized council member skeletons.


A Tidally-Locked Moon:

A bit like this question. Pretty much what it says. A moon has shifted orbit and the moon and planet are tidally locked with the moon closer to the planet. Perhaps magic caused it, perhaps a rogue body caused it and magic stopped it from destroying the world, or perhaps it just happened and magic has nothing to do with it.

This has caused the mother of all permanent high tides. It would likely also cause widespread geological instability most likely. It might create a semi-permanent high tide on the other side, and low tides on the sides of the planet.

enter image description here

You could explain the emergence (if desired) on magic. If magic WAS involved, it might be wearing off and the moon shifting orbit. It would slowly sinking lands on the other side of the planet and exposing the sunken land on the other. As the moon moved, there would be wild tides and disasters, volcanos, and all sorts of fun!

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting! I always tend to regard the tidal waves as something temporary, of which I needed a permanent high sea level, but to think I can make the moon closer instead... With a little bit of magic, I can add a setting where an archmage tried to apply gravity magic to the moon for pure curiosity. $\endgroup$
    – veir
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ @DWKraus - The opposite side of the planet would also be in permanent high tide. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 1:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JoerenzEspillardo "Tidal Waves" actually have nothing to do with tides, and are generally tied to an earthquake or landslide that results in a large displacement of water. They are, indeed, of a temporary nature. The Tidal Bulges shown in this picture are permanent features of the Earth. However, the picture is very exaggerated. If a tidally locked moon became 'unlocked' it might reveal some shallowly covered land, but that land would very low elevation and would be covered again by each (daily?) regular tide. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ @JoerenzEspillardo Your idea of moving a tidally locked moon closer to the planet would go a long way towards creating a monster bulge of water that could be covering much larger landmasses that could be revealed by a retreating moon. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ This is actually my favorite answer. And a variation also allows for re-emergence and re-disappearance of the land, if the moon is only "nearly" tidally locked, but not completely so. $\endgroup$
    – Harthag
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 23:41

Glacial dam that breaks

This is something that has actually happened in the far distant past (without the involvement of magic).

Broken ice dam blamed for 300-year chill

Geological evidence shows that by about 11,000 years ago, retreating glaciers had left two huge freshwater lakes sprawling over Central Canada and parts of the northern US, bigger than all of today’s Great Lakes combined.

There are even multiple ways to inject this into your minimal-magic setting:

  1. The dam was failing and magic was used to prop it up
  2. It was magic that led to the vast ice sheet melting behind the dam in the first place (and as a flow-on effect, the dam melts right through during your story), for example a bunch of wizards wanted a lake to sail on and didn't think about the relatively warm water melting the rest of the ice on its own without wizardly interference
  3. Someone did something silly and broke the dam that was holding an existing body of water back
  4. Someone did something silly and warmed up the water that was being sufficiently restrained by the glacial dam
  5. There are two warring tribes of wizards, one trying to freeze the dam the other trying to thaw it (or one trying to warm up the beautiful lake, the others trying to cool down the dangerous reservoir of dam-melting water)

Geology doesn't always work slowly, there's not necessarily a need to use magic to explain subsidence. Look at Mediterranean islands like Santorini, or Tonga more recently. There is evidence to suggest rapid subsidence, or uplift in some cases, driven by volcanic activity. Both in the geologic and archaeologic records.

Volcanic eruptions can also "create" land rising from the water where there was none via lava or pyroclastic flows.

If you want it on a smaller geographic scale than an entire tectonic plate, and/or a compressed time scale, that is probably going to be your best bet for a natural process to drive it.

  • $\begingroup$ In fact, the entire Mediterranean was originally dry and became flooded when the natural dam at Gibralter broke. The same thing happened to the Black Sea when the Bosporus broke through. The latter was certainly observed by humans and there is good reason to believe it is the basis of the biblical flood report. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 15:36


Landmasses float over the planet mantle. They're basically stone boats sailing an ocean of magma. What's important is that, to achieve buoyancy, the landmass needs enough displacement underneath it.

Therefore, make giant boring mole machines that drill and break the rock underneath the landmass, removing the "Hull" that gives it buyoancy. The landmass sinks under its own weight.



  1. The landmass must remain underwater for at least 1,000 years.

    • Good luck rebuilding the bedrock underneath it. The only way to get it above water again is to dump more land on the land , but then it is no more the same landmass. "I heard you like land, so I put more land on your sunken land..."
  2. The transition to and from the flooded state need not be instantaneous.

    • All that drilling takes time.
  3. The largest landmass considered is an entire tectonic plate.

    • Your answer is a giga drill, or more drills. Bonus points if your boring machines aren't boring at all, and they combine to make a bigger, galaxy-sized drilling mecha.
  4. The smallest landmass considered is a small island.

    • The economy of scale! Who cares about small islands when your drill shall pierce the heavens!

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