Messinian Salinity Crisis (MSC)

The Messinian Salinity Crisis (MSC), also referred to as the Messinian Event, and in its latest stage as the Lago Mare event, was a geological event during which the Mediterranean Sea went into a cycle of partly or nearly complete desiccation throughout the latter part of the Messinian age of the Miocene epoch, from 5.96 to 5.33 Ma (million years ago). It ended with the Zanclean flood, when the Atlantic reclaimed the basin.

Sediment samples from below the deep seafloor of the Mediterranean Sea, which include evaporite minerals, soils, and fossil plants, show that, about 5.96 million years ago in the late Miocene period, the precursor of the Strait of Gibraltar closed tight and the Mediterranean Sea, for the first time and then repeatedly, partially desiccated. The strait closed 5.6 Ma for the last time and, because of the generally dry climate conditions, within a millennium the Mediterranean basin nearly completely dried out, evaporating into a deep dry basin bottoming at some places 3 to 5 km (1.9 to 3.1 mi) below the world ocean level, with a few hypersaline Dead Sea-like pockets. Around 5.5 Ma, less dry climatic conditions allowed the basin to resume receiving more fresh water from rivers, with pockets of Caspian-like brackish waters getting progressively less hyper-saline, until the Strait of Gibraltar finally reopened 5.33 Ma with the Zanclean flood.

Even now, the Mediterranean is saltier than the North Atlantic because of its near isolation by the Strait of Gibraltar and its high rate of evaporation. If the Strait of Gibraltar closes again, which is likely to happen in the near geological future (though extremely distantly on a human time scale), the Mediterranean would mostly evaporate in about a thousand years. 


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