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Lands that sunk off the map

Atlantis is an example of a mythical place swallowed by the ocean in an equally fictional earthquake.  In truth today, there are lands now underwater and theoretically off the map.

Losing Louisiana

Even before the August 2016 devastating floods hit Louisiana and prior to the infamous Hurricane Katrina, environmentalists warned of the loss of coastline. Terra firma in the state was originally formed from sediment washed down the Mississippi River, filling Louisiana’s topography with deltas and huge areas of wetlands. Some areas of the state’s most famous city of New Orleans only sit a few feet above sea level.

According to Scientific American, “In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off map, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans…”

Journalist Brett Anderson has written extensively about land lost here. He argues that current maps are thus rendered inaccurate because Louisiana has lost its boot. The state’s borders shape it like the letter “L” or something akin to what Santa wears on his feet.

After exploring the area and speaking to long-time Louisiana natives, Anderson came up with a map of the state he believes is more accurate than the official one.


Solomon Islands

Five uninhabited land masses, part of the archipelago that makes up the Solomon Islands, were recently submerged, joining six other islands lost years earlier — at least one of which was inhabited. Scientists blame rising seas (obviously) but fall short of putting responsibility on “climate change.

Australian researchers presented their findings on the disappearing atolls in a paper, writing: “We present the first analysis of coastal dynamics from a sea-level rise hotspot in the Solomon Islands. Using time series aerial and satellite imagery from 1947 to 2014 of 33 islands, along with historical insight from local knowledge, we have identified five vegetated reef islands that have vanished over this time period and a further six islands experiencing severe shoreline recession.”




The study results bring to light the “critical need” for understanding all the environmental and man-made factors that contribute to rising seas — “a complex interplay,” according to researchers.

Lago di Resia/Reschensee, Italy

Oddly enough, some lands were purposely flooded; such is the case with Lake Reschen in Italy. In 1939, the local power company (then part of Austria) decided a dam was in order to create an abundance of electricity. The plan also involved creating an artificial lake that could join two natural lakes, all while demolishing the villages of Graun and Reschen in its wake. Needless to say, the townspeople were not happy and protested vehemently.

World War II ensued, delaying the project a bit, but by 1950 a total of 163 houses and 1,290 acres of land were sunk below the rising waters. What remains significant today is not what’s underwater, but what’s above it. The bell tower of a 14th century church still rises out of the lake.


Qiandao Lake

A similar effort in 1959 in China resulted in the so-called Atlantis-like “Lion City.” Qiandao is a manmade lake also created to support a power station. The massive undertaking flooded over 200 square miles (573 sq. km) and forced 290,000 people to move.

The land that became the lake was located in the valley at the base of the Wu Shi mountain, where two ancient cities were located. Thirteen-hundred-year-old statues, temples, arches, roads and houses remain intact, 131 feet underwater.


A sinking future

While science and politics may not agree on why seas are rising, it’s generally accepted they are. Satellite images and enough time has provided plenty of evidence. If seas rise as currently predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — around 4 feet by the end of the century — Louisiana, for one, will lose more than its boot.

There’s more land predicted to sink off the map. The New York Times offers these interactive maps that attempt to illustrate future coastal impact.  And, increasingly, it's not just the coast at risk. Hurricane Matthew caused catastrophic flooding much farther inland.

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