Geo-Marine Letters

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 51–64 | Cite as

Erosion of continental margins in the Western Mediterranean due to sea-level stagnancy during the Messinian Salinity Crisis

  • Janna JustEmail author
  • Christian Hübscher
  • Christian Betzler
  • Thomas Lüdmann
  • Klaus Reicherter


High-resolution multi-channel seismic data from continental slopes with minor sediment input off southwest Mallorca Island, the Bay of Oran (Algeria) and the Alboran Ridge reveal evidence that the Messinian erosional surface is terraced at an almost constant depth interval between 320 and 380 m below present-day sea level. It is proposed that these several hundred- to 2,000-m-wide terraces were eroded contemporaneously and essentially at the same depth. Present-day differences in these depths result from subsidence or uplift in the individual realms. The terraces are thought to have evolved during one or multiple periods of sea-level stagnancy in the Western Mediterranean Basin. According to several published scenarios, a single or multiple periods of relative sea-level stillstand occurred during the Messinian desiccation event, generally known as the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Some authors suggest that the stagnancy started during the refilling phase of the Mediterranean basins. When the rising sea level reached the height of the Sicily Sill, the water spilled over this swell into the eastern basin. The stagnancy persisted until sea level in the eastern basin caught up with the western Mediterranean water level. Other authors assigned periods of sea-level stagnancy to drawdown phases, when inflowing waters from the Atlantic kept the western sea level constant at the depth of the Sicily Sill. Our findings corroborate all those Messinian sea-level reconstructions, forwarding that a single or multiple sea-level stagnancies at the depth of the Sicily Sill lasted long enough to significantly erode the upper slope. Our data also have implications for the ongoing debate of the palaeo-depth of the Sicily Sill. Since the Mallorcan plateau experienced the least vertical movement, the observed terrace depth of 380 m there is inferred to be close to the Messinian depth of this swell.


Unconformity Continental Slope Messinian Uplift Rate Western Basin 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We gratefully acknowledge the scientific party as well as captain and crew of the research vessel Meteor for their support during CARBMED cruise M69/1. Thanks go to P. Meijer, an anonymous reviewer and the journal editors for valuable comments which helped improve the manuscript. We would also like to thank Stefan Dümmong for his support by providing a CRS routine. The STRATEC project was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG research grant Hu698/16).


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© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janna Just
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  • Christian Hübscher
    • 1
  • Christian Betzler
    • 2
  • Thomas Lüdmann
    • 3
  • Klaus Reicherter
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute of GeophysicsUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Geology and PaleontologyUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Biogeochemistry and Marine ChemistryUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  4. 4.Department of Neotectonics and Natural Hazards, RWTHAachenGermany
  5. 5.Faculty of GeosciencesUniversity of BremenBremenGermany

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