Zanclean flood or
Zanclean Deluge is a flood theorized to have
Mediterranean Sea 5.33 million years ago. This
flooding ended the
Messinian salinity crisis
Messinian salinity crisis and reconnected the
Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, although it is possible that
even before the flood there were partial connections to the Atlantic
Ocean. The reconnection marks the beginning of the
According to this model, water from the
Atlantic Ocean refilled the
dried up basin through the modern-day Strait of Gibraltar. The
Mediterranean Basin flooded mostly during a period estimated to have
been between several months and two years.
Sea level rise
Sea level rise in the
basin may have reached rates at times greater than ten metres per day
(thirty feet per day). Based on the erosion features preserved
until modern times under the
Pliocene sediment, Garcia-Castellanos et
al. estimate that water rushed down a drop of more than 1 kilometre
(0.62 mi) with a discharge of up to 2×108 m3/s
(7.1×109 cu ft/s), about 1,000 times that of the present
day Amazon River. Studies of the underground structures at the
Gibraltar Strait show that the flooding channel descended in a rather
gradual way toward the bottom of the basin rather than forming a steep
Not all scientific studies have agreed with the catastrophist
interpretation of this event. Some researchers have estimated that the
reinstallment of a "normal"
Mediterranean Sea basin following the
Messinian "Lago Mare" episode took place in a much more gradual way,
taking as long as 10,000 years.
4 Similar megafloods
5 See also
6 Notes and references
7 External links
The geologic history of the
Mediterranean is governed by plate
tectonics involving the African Plate, the
Arabian Plate and the
Eurasian Plate which shrank the previously existing Tethys until its
western part became the present-day Mediterranean. For reasons not
clearly established, during the latest
severed from the
Atlantic Ocean and partly dried up when the
Guadalhorce and Rifian corridors that had previously connected the
Mediterranean to the Atlantic closed, triggering the Messinian
Salinity Crisis with the formation of thick salt deposits on the
former seafloor and erosion of the continental slopes. The Nile
Rhone carved deep canyons during this time. Water levels in the
Mediterranean during this time dropped by kilometres; the exact
magnitude of the drop and whether it was symmetric between the Western
Mediterranean and the Eastern
Mediterranean is unclear; it is
possible that interconnected seas remained on the floor of the
The presence of Atlantic fish in
Messinian deposits and the volume
of salt deposited during the
Messinian Salinity Crisis
Messinian Salinity Crisis implies that
there was some remnant flow from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean
even before the
Zanclean flood. Already before the
increased precipitation and runoff had lowered the salinity of the
remnant sea, with some water putatively originating in the
Paratethys north of the Mediterranean.
Zanclean flood occurred when the
Strait of Gibraltar
Strait of Gibraltar opened.
Tectonic subsidence of the Gibraltar region may have lowered the sill
until it breached. The exact triggering event is not known with
certainty; faulting or sea level rise are debatable. The most widely
accepted hypothesis is that a stream flowing into the Mediterranean
eroded through the
Strait of Gibraltar
Strait of Gibraltar until it captured the Atlantic
Ocean and that the Strait did not exist before this erosion
During the flood, a channel formed across the Strait of Gibraltar,
which starts at the
Camarinal Sill in the Strait of Gibraltar,
splits around the Vizconde de Eza high of the Alboran Sea and
eventually connects with the Alboran Channel before splitting into
several branches that end in the Algero-Balear basin. The
channel has an U-like shape in its starting region, which is
consistent with its formation during a giant flood. The sector of
Zanclean channel that passes through the
Camarinal Sill may have a
different origin, however.
Zanclean flood occurred gradually or as a catastrophic
event is controversial. The magnitude of a catastrophic flood has
been simulated by modelling. One single-dimensional model assumes a
catastrophic flood of more than 10–100 sverdrup.[note 1] Another
estimate assumes that after the first breach of the sill, the flowing
water eroded the threshold and forming the channel across the
Gibraltar strait, increasing the flow of water which in turn increased
the erosion until water levels rose enough in the
slow the flood. Under such a scenario, a peak discharge of over
100,000,000 cubic metres per second (3.5×109 cu ft/s)
occurred with water velocities of over 40 metres per second
(130 ft/s); such flow rates are about a thousand times larger
than the discharge of the
Amazon River and ten times as much as the
Missoula Floods. This flood would have descended a relatively
gentle ramp into the
Mediterranean basin, not as a giant
waterfall. Later simulations using more explicit geography
constrain the flow to about 100 Sverdrup, which is about 100,000,000
cubic metres per second (3.5×109 cu ft/s). They further
indicate the formation of large gyres in the
Alboran Sea during the
flooding and that the flood eroded the
Camarinal Sill at a rate of
0.4–0.7 metres per day (1.3–2.3 ft/d). The exact size of
the flood is dependent on the pre-flood water levels in the
Mediterranean and higher water levels there would result in a much
The flood affected only the Western
Mediterranean at first, because
the Sicily Sill (located at the present Straits of Sicily) formed a
barrier separating its basin from the Eastern
in addition a sill may have existed in the eastern
Alboran Sea at this
time. While it was at first assumed that the filling of the
Mediterranean would have taken thousands of years, later
estimates of the size of the
Strait of Gibraltar
Strait of Gibraltar channel implied that
it would have taken much less, potentially less than a year until
reconnection. A 2018 study suggested that the Mediterranean
reversed water losses in around two years.
A large flood is not the only explanation for the reconnection of the
Mediterranean with the Atlantic and concomitant environmental changes;
more gradual reflooding of the
Mediterranean including reflooding
through other water sources is also possible. The absence of a
catastrophic flooding event is supported by geological evidence found
along the southern margin of the Alboran Sea.
A January 2018 study by scientists from the University of Malta,
published in the journal Scientific Reports, however, presented
geological evidence that the catastrophic megaflood was indeed
responsible. The study, led by geoscientist Aaron Micallef, used
seafloor data from between Sicily's eastern coast and
identify a body of sediment which Micallef and his colleagues believe
to have been pushed eastwards as the opening of the Strait of
Gibraltar caused a massive amount of water to flow from the Atlantic.
The collection of sediment Micallef and his colleagues observed was
160 kilometres long, 95 kilometres wide, and as much as 900 metres
deep in some areas, abutting an underwater limestone cliff known as
The timing of the
Zanclean flood is uncertain, with one possibility
being a flood around 5.33 million years ago; the end of the
Miocene and beginning of the Zanclean/
Pliocene is usually
associated with the flood. The main
Zanclean flood may have been
preceded by an earlier smaller flood event, and the presence
of deep sea terraces has been used to infer that the refilling of the
Mediterranean occurred in several pulses. Complete refilling of
Mediterranean may have taken about a decade.
Zanclean flood created the Strait of Gibraltar; it is questionable
that tectonic or volcanic events could have created the strait
themselves seeing as the main plate boundaries do not run through the
strait and there is little seismic activity in its area. The
current morphology of the strait is characterized by two sills, the
maximally 284 metres (932 ft) deep
Camarinal Sill and the
somewhat deeper Spartel Sill farther west; the narrowest part of
the strait is located east of either sill, and this narrowest part
is considerably deeper. It is possible that these sills were
formed after the flood through gravity-induced movement of
Zanclean flood caused a major change in the environment of the
Mediterranean basin; the continental "Lago Mare" facies was replaced
Zanclean deep sea deposits. The flood may have affected global
climate, considering that the much smaller flood triggered when Lake
Agassiz drained did result in a cold period.
Rising sea levels made the deeply incised
Nile river become a ria as
far inland as Aswan, 900 km from the modern mediterranean
Zanclean flood resulted in the final isolation of
Mediterranean islands such as Crete, resulting in
speciation of animals found there. On the other hand, the
formation of the
Gibraltar Strait prevented animals from crossing over
between Africa and Europe. Further the reconnection allowed sea
animals such as cetaceans and their ancestors and pinnipeds to
Mediterranean from the Atlantic.
Evidence of the flooding has been obtained on Zanclean-age sediments,
both in boreholes and in sediments that were subsequently uplifted and
raised above sea level. A sharp erosional surface separates the
Zanclean flood surface from the younger deposits, which are always
marine in origin.
The rates at which the
Mediterranean filled during the flood were more
than enough to trigger substantial induced seismicity. Resulting
large landslides would have sufficed at creating large tsunamis with
waveheights reaching 100 metres (330 ft), evidence of which has
been found in the Algeciras Basin.
Similar floods have occurred elsewhere on Earth during history;
examples include the
Bonneville flood in North America, during
Lake Bonneville overflowed through
Red Rock Pass
Red Rock Pass into the Snake
River Basin, as well as the
Black Sea deluge hypothesis
Black Sea deluge hypothesis that
postulates a flood from the
Mediterranean into the
Black Sea through
Notes and references
^ 1 sverdrup is 1,000,000 cubic metres per second. Total outflow
of all rivers is about 1.2 sverdrup.
^ Blanc, P.-L. (2002). "The opening of the Plio-Quaternary Gibraltar
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^ a b c Garcia-Castellanos, D., Estrada, F., Jiménez-Munt, I.,
Gorini, C., Fernàndez, M., Vergés, J., De Vicente, R. (10 December
2009) Catastrophic flood of the
Mediterranean after the Messinian
salinity crisis, Nature 462, pp. 778–781, doi:10.1038/nature08555
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^ a b Abril & Periáñez 2016, p. 242.
^ a b c Abril & Periáñez 2016, p. 243.
^ a b Stoica et al. 2016, p. 854.
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Media related to
Messinian salinity crisis
Messinian salinity crisis at Wikimedia Commons
"Dramatic flood filled
Mediterranean Sea". Agence France-Presse. 10
December 2009. Retrieved 2 De