A cataclysmic flood could have filled the Mediterranean Sea — which millions of years ago was a dry basin — like a bathtub in the space of less than two years. A new model suggests that at the flood’s peak water poured from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean basin at a rate one thousand times the flow of the Amazon River, according to calculations published in the Dec. 10 Nature. [NCT: link to original article]
“In an instantaneous flash, the dry Mediterranean became a normal Mediterranean like we see it today,” says lead author Daniel Garcia-Castellanos of Spain’s Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) in Barcelona.
He and his colleagues calculate that at the height of the flood, water levels rose more than 10 meters and more than 40 centimeters of rock eroded away per day. The model also shows that 100 million cubic meters of water flowed through the channel per second, with water gushing at speeds of 100 kilometers an hour. Rather than a Niagara Falls-esque cascade from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean, the team’s results imply a torrent several kilometers wide at a fairly gradual slope.
Although the Mediterranean features in many placid tourist spots around Europe and northern Africa today, it narrowly escaped becoming a desert. The sea separated from the world’s oceans 5.6 million years ago and was desiccated by evaporation in a period geologists call the Messinian salinity crisis.
Luckily, 5.3 million years ago water from the Atlantic Ocean found a way back in to the drying seabed through what is now the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco. Geologists figured the resulting flood must have been impressive, but their estimates for how long it took have varied wildly, from 10 years to several thousand years.
“Can’t touch this” for environmental change. And yes, I know some readers will immediately start thinking of The Great Flood…