When the Mediterranean was dry

Mega floods have not been common in Earth's history. But there was one like no other. The largest in the history of the planet. And it has to do with the bottom of the Mediterranean. There is a salt layer up to 3.2 kilometers thick. Some scientists believe that the entire sea has evaporated for a while and is drying out like the Sahara in the south. Research is now pointing to these distant times. When the Mediterranean was dry.

When the Mediterranean was dry, there was no connection to the Atlantic (here NASA photo of the Strait of Gibraltar)
When the Mediterranean was dry, there was no connection to the Atlantic (here NASA photo of the Strait of Gibraltar)

500 amazons together

Details of the dehydration of the sea and the water currents that filled the pool remain a mystery. The process of flooding the Mediterranean was impressive. It is estimated that the waterfall that filled it was 500 times larger than the Amazon River. "It was something sensational," says Daniel García-Castellanos. It is part of the CSIC's Jaume Almera Institute of Geosciences (ICTJA). He tells it in a recently published analysis in Geoscientific review. You have identified a sediment body that could be deposited by the mega-flood.

Without this reconnection to the Atlantic, the Mediterranean as we know it would not exist. The Mediterranean is now an important source of global water circulation. Evaporation adds an extra dose of salt to the water that hits the Atlantic. It contributes to the promotion of the oceanic conveyor belts that circle the planet and influences, among other things, the temperatures and storm patterns.

The 3,735,000 cubic kilometers of water in the Mediterranean are constantly evaporating. Every year, almost 120 centimeters of water are converted into steam. The rain and rivers are not enough to saturate the system. The only source of water that maintains the stability of this mass is a constant flow from the neighboring Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar.

Millions of years ago, tectonic movements below the surface could have moved the landscape upwards and hindered this connection. The change could have cut the escape route for the salt streams. Salts accumulated about six million years ago. A colossal gathering. It could supply the 7,700 million inhabitants of the earth with the equivalent of 50 large Giza pyramids made of salt. The only thing that would have remained between the empty basin and the Atlantic is a narrow strip of land.

The flood was colossal.
The flood was colossal.
Reconnect the sea

A massive flood crossed this gap about 5.3 million years ago. It connected the ocean and the sea again.

As the water increased, it came from a path that increased in depth and let more water through. At its peak, the flow could have been 100 million cubic meters per second. Maybe it would fill the ocean in two years or less. A phenomenon of this magnitude would have unearthed an amount of sediment equivalent to at least 400 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

This phenomenon changed the entire region. Not only to move the water, but also to cut stones, sand and everything that stood in his way.

Scientists began analyzing the history of the Mediterranean in the 1950s. They found features in the top layers of salt that resembled the cracked surface of a mud bog when it dried out. An indication that the water would not always have flowed to the surface. Maybe from the time when the Mediterranean was dry.

The researchers use a method similar to a geological ultrasound. They send seismic vibrations from a ship to the bottom of the Mediterranean. Then they measure the echoes.

It doesn't take long for responses to arrive. Many experts hope to be able to look for further information at various points in the Mediterranean.

Just imagining this mega-flood is monumental. Think about it when you fill your pool. Maybe after this quarantine that shifts all consolation … but only temporarily.

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