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Quantifying the Mediterranean freshwater budget throughout the late Miocene: New implications for sapropel formation and the Messinian Salinity Crisis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-37
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date29 May 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 9 May 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 29 May 2017
DatePublished (current) - 15 Aug 2017


The cyclic sedimentary record of the late Miocene Mediterranean shows a clear transition from open marine to restricted conditions and finally to evaporitic environments associated with the Messinian Salinity Crisis. This evolution has been attributed to changes in Mediterranean-Atlantic connectivity and regional climate, which has a strong precessional pulse. 31 Coupled climate simulations with different orbital configurations have been combined in a regression model that estimates the evolution of the freshwater budget of the Mediterranean throughout the late Miocene. The study suggests that wetter conditions occur at precession minima and are enhanced at eccentricity maxima. We use the wetter peaks to predict synthetic sapropel records. Using these to retune two Mediterranean sediment successions indicates that the overall net freshwater budget is the most likely mechanism driving sapropel formation in the late Miocene. Our sapropel timing is offset from precession minima and boreal summer insolation maxima during low eccentricity if the present-day drainage configuration across North Africa is used. This phase offset is removed if at least 50% more water drained into the Mediterranean during the late Miocene, capturing additional North African monsoon precipitation, for example via the Chad-Eosahabi catchment in Libya. In contrast with the clear expression of precession and eccentricity in the model results, obliquity, which is visible in the sapropel record during minimum eccentricity, does not have a strong signal in our model. By exploring the freshwater evolution curve in a box model that also includes Mediterranean-Atlantic exchange, we are able, for the first time, to estimate the Mediterranean’s salinity evolution, which is quantitatively consistent with precessional control. Additionally, we separate and quantify the distinct contributions regional climate and tectonic restriction make to the lithological changes associated with the Messinian Salinity Crisis. The novel methodology and results of this study have numerous potential applications to other regions and geological scenarios, as well as to astronomical tuning.

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