Postglacial floodings of the Marmara Sea: molluscs and sediments tell the story

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The early Holocene marine flooding of the Black Sea has been the subject of intense scientific debate since the “Noah’s Flood” hypothesis was proposed in the late 1990s. The chronology of the flooding is not straightforward because the connection between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea involves the intermediate Marmara Sea Basin via two sills (Dardanelles and Bosphorus). This study explores the chronology of late Pleistocene–Holocene flooding by examining sedimentary facies and molluscs from 24 gravity cores spanning shelf to slope settings in the southern Marmara Sea Basin. A late Pleistocene Ponto-Caspian (Neoeuxinian) mollusc association is found in 12 of the cores, comprising 14 mollusc species and dominated by brackish (oligohaline–lower mesohaline) endemic taxa (dreissenids, hydrobiids). The Neoeuxinian association is replaced by a TurritellaCorbula association at the onset of the Holocene. The latter is dominated by marine species, several of which are known to thrive under dysoxic conditions in muddy bottoms. This association is common in early Holocene intervals as well as sapropel intervals in younger Holocene strata. It is an indicator of low-salinity outflows from the Black Sea into the Marmara Sea that drive stratification. A marine Mediterranean association (87 species) represents both soft bottom and hard substrate faunas that lived in well-ventilated conditions and upper mesohaline–polyhaline salinities (ca. 25 psu). Shallower areas were occupied by hard substrate taxa and phytopdetritic communities, whereas deeper areas had soft bottom faunas. The middle shelf part of the northern Gemlik Gulf has intervals with irregular and discontinuous sedimentary structures admixed with worn Neoeuxinian and euryhaline Mediterranean faunas. These intervals represent reworking events (slumping) likely related to seismic activity rooted in the North Anatolian Fault system. The core data and faunas indicate an oscillating postglacial sea-level rise and phases of increased/decreased ventilation in the Marmara Sea during the Holocene, as well as palaeobiogeographic reorganisations of Ponto-Caspian and Mediterranean water bodies since the latest Pleistocene (<30 ka). The findings contribute to arguments against a single catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea at about 7.5 ka (Noah’s Flood).

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This study is part of a Turkish collaboration joint project between MTA and İTÜ (number TUBITAK YDABÇAG 241/G, sub-project of the National Marine Geological and Geophysical Programme on the Formation of the Marmara Sea: Tectonics and Sedimentation). The author thanks Ismail Kuşçu and Kerim Sarikavak (Marine Research Project leaders of MTA, now retired from MTA and Deputy General Director of MTA respectively), as well as Naci Görür and Namık Çağatay (Marine Research Project coordinators of ITU). Also acknowledged are the scientists, technicians and crew of the MTA R/V Sismik1 for their help in sampling during the cruise of May 2001. The author is grateful to the management of the General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration (MTA/Ankara) for providing the opportunity to access the data. Sincere thanks go to Frank P. Wesselingh (Naturalis, Leiden, The Netherlands) for his valuable comments and editing of an earlier version of the manuscript, as well as to S. Popov, M. Taviani, two anonymous reviewers and the editors for other useful suggestions.

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Büyükmeriç, Y. Postglacial floodings of the Marmara Sea: molluscs and sediments tell the story. Geo-Mar Lett 36, 307–321 (2016) doi:10.1007/s00367-016-0446-6

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  • Late Pleistocene
  • Last Glacial Maximum
  • North Anatolian Fault
  • Marine Flooding
  • Marine Connection