Mediterranean Sea dried up five million years ago

Feb 16, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Upward movement of the Earth's crust transformed the Straits of Gibraltar into a dam. Approximately five million years ago, the Mediterranean Sea dried up after it was sealed off from the Atlantic Ocean. According to earth scientist Rob Govers of Utrecht University, Netherlands, a reduction in the weight on the Earth's crust led to the Straits of Gibraltar moving upwards.

Govers will publish his conclusions in the February issue of the earth sciences journal Geology.

Much like a mattress springs back into shape after you get off it, the Earth’s crust moves upwards when sea levels fall. Known as isostasy, this phenomenon explains how the Mediterranean Sea was sealed off from the Atlantic Ocean five million years ago. This ‘dam’ would remain in place for 170,000 years. Much like today, the rate of evaporation in the Mediterranean Sea five million years ago greatly exceeded the incoming flow of water. As no more water was introduced via the Straits of Gibraltar, the water evaporated and the Mediterranean Sea dried up completely.

After being separated for 170,000 years, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean were once again connected. Govers believes that the movement of the Earth’s crust played a crucial role. The African Plate subducts under the Eurasian Plate beneath Gibraltar and the weight of the subducting edge of the African Plate may have pulled the entire region downwards. Govers submits CT scans of the inner layers of the Earth’s crust and measurements of gravitational forces as evidence: both the scans and the measurements indicate the presence of a heavy mass up to 400 kilometres beneath the area.

More information: Choking the Mediterranean to dehydration: the Messinian Salinity Crisis, Dr. Rob Govers, Geology (February 2009).

Provided by Utrecht University, Netherlands

Explore further: Modeling storm surge to better protect Texas

Related Stories

Humans leaving a permanent mark on deep Earth

Aug 05, 2014

Human forays deep underground, such as boreholes, mines and nuclear bomb tests, are leaving a mark on the planet's geology that will last for hundreds of millions of years, say scientists.

When tectonics killed everything

Nov 25, 2013

A new paper reveals how the worst extinction in Earth's history may have been tied to the formation of Supercontinent Pangea. The catastrophe wasn't triggered by an impact from above—unlike another well-known ...

Titan gets a dune 'makeover'

Jan 17, 2013

(Phys.org)—Titan's siblings must be jealous. While most of Saturn's moons display their ancient faces pockmarked by thousands of craters, Titan - Saturn's largest moon - may look much younger than it really ...

Seeking life's imprint in shifting desert sand

May 02, 2011

A group of scientists are hunched over, their eyes intently scanning the jumble of rocks on the ground. Every now and then, someone picks one up for closer inspection, turning it over and over again in their ...

Recommended for you

Two NASA satellites see Tropical Storm Andres intensify

21 hours ago

The first tropical depression of the eastern Pacific Ocean hurricane season strengthened into tropical storm Andres. NASA's Aqua and Global Precipitation Measurement mission core satellite both provided information ...

Severe flooding hits central Texas, Oklahoma

May 29, 2015

A stagnant upper-air pattern that spread numerous storms and heavy rains from central Texas up into Oklahoma has resulted in record flooding for parts of the Lone Star State. One of the hardest hit areas ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

GrayMouser
3 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2009
AGW!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.