Atlantis Destruction: How Plato’s Location for the Lost Island was Ripe for a Climate-Related Disaster


How Plato got it right about Atlantis

Atlantis Canals: PlatoThis is the third in a series of articles on how Plato’s details about Atlantis are consistent with the real world. Plato could not have known the importance of these details, because the science did not exist in his day.

The Atlantis Destruction Depended on Location and Climate

Atlantis Destruction: graphic of ice burden and post-glacial rebound
This graphic illustrates the Ice Age glacial burden and subsequent rebound as the ice melted. © Rod Martin, Jr.

Plato had never heard about glacial isostatic adjustments in the tectonic crust of the Earth or about the millions of tons of ice which had burdened Europe and North America for tens of thousands of years. Yet, he picked a location for the Atlantis destruction which was perfect for maximizing the effects of natural climate change.

What is “isostatic adjustment?” It’s a bit like a foam mattress that springs back when you get up. It’s a bit more like a waterbed mattress, because when you sit on one, the mattress part on either side goes up to compensate for the part that goes down. When you stand up, the part on which you were sitting springs back—rebounds. The parts on either side, which had enjoyed a brief uplift, collapse to their original, lower positions.

Glacial isostatic adjustment is defined as “the rise of land masses that were depressed by the huge weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period, through a process known as isostasy” ( It also includes the fall of land masses as a complementary effect of the rise. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Atlantis Destruction: Greenland without ice
This map of Greenland shows what the land looks like underneath all that ice. The center is heavily depressed. If the ice ever melts, that land will spring back. Map: Skew-t (CC BY-SA 3.0) via

Now, imagine millions of tons of ice sitting on two continents. The tectonic plates are strong, but even they cannot stand without buckling under the pressure. Even today, the center of Greenland is below sea level because of the 3 kilometer thick bed of ice sitting on it.

The rebound and collapse after the last Ice Age glacial period is still ongoing, albeit more slowly now than in the past. We see this effect in the changes in water level in America’s Lake Michigan. The northern part of the lake sees water levels dropping while the southern shoreline suffers raising water levels. The differences are noticeable only over a lifetime, but they are measurable.

A similar effect is observed in the British Isles, with Southern England apparently sinking while Northern Scotland is being left high and dry. Areas burdened by mountains of ice more than 12,000 years ago continue to move upward without the load of ice, while adjacent areas which were not so encumbered become more depressed to compensate for the adjacent uplift.

Bays and inlets in Scandinavia have become lakes over several generations because of this slow uplift. Rising land has created new shorelines, cutting off the openings to those former bays.

Feverish Uplift May Have Contributed to the Atlantis Destruction

Right at the end of the last glacial period of the current Ice Age, the changes in the tectonic plates were more rapid. Geologists call that period the “elastic” phase of isostatic adjustment. Rebound, and likely its complementary depression, were more energetic then, because the loss of the ice burden was still ongoing.

Plato’s Atlantis was caught between the two fields of greatest tectonic rebound. Surrounding each region of rebound remained the areas of complementary depression. If these North American and European fields of depression overlapped, then it’s possible that the region Plato picked for Atlantis received a double-whammy of pressure to subside.

Atlantis Destruction: Map of post-glacial Earth and the isostatic adjustments from melting ice.
This map shows the post-glacial isostatic adjustments that may have resulted in the Atlantis destruction. Map: © Rod Martin, Jr.

The Third Whammy of the Atlantis Destruction

Plato’s Atlantis destruction placed the ill-fated island in a geologically unstable region—alongside a tectonic plate boundary—now known to have frequent earthquakes and occasional volcanic eruptions.

Combined with the pressure to collapse because of post-glacial rebound on either side, Atlantis may have had three strikes against its stability. If the legendary island was real, we now have a pretty good set of reasons for its ultimate demise.

Atlantis Destruction Summary

Again, Plato gets it right without knowing the science and the details of climate and geological history. The Greek philosopher had no way of knowing about the kinds of forces required for the overnight destruction of Atlantis. No other known forces could have created such a huge geological event.

At the end of the last Ice Age glacial period, the Earth’s crust was reacting to no longer having the burden of millions of tons of ice. As the continents of North America and Europe breathed a sigh of relief, outlying regions may have buckled downward to compensate for the post-glacial uplift. With Atlantis in between the two regions of greatest uplift, Plato’s legendary island paid the ultimate price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Crichton, David. “Flood Risk & Insurance in England and Wales: Are there lessons to be learned from Scotland?” Retrieved from on 2014:0905.
Martin, Rod. “Atlantis Geology: How Plato’s Location Was Perfect.” Retrieved from on 2014:0909.
Plato. Timaeus and Critias, translated by Sir Desmond Lee. 1977, Penguin Books, London.
Post-glacial rebound (Wikipedia archive 2006:0811)
Retrieved from on 2014:0905.
Topographic map of Greenland bedrock by Skew-t (CC BY-SA 3.0) via
Retrieved from
Topographic_map_of_Greenland_bedrock.jpg on 2014:0909.

This article was originally published 2014:0909 on


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