Letters to Nature

Nature 422, 602-606 (10 April 2003) | doi:10.1038/nature01553; Received 2 December 2002; Accepted 27 February 2003

Deep roots of the Messinian salinity crisis

Svend Duggen1,2, Kaj Hoernle1, Paul van den Bogaard1, Lars Rüpke1 & Jason Phipps Morgan1

  1. GEOMAR Research Center for Marine Geosciences, Wischhofstrasse 1-3, 24148 Kiel, Germany
  2. Present address: Department of Geology, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX, UK.

Correspondence to: Svend Duggen1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to S.D. (e-mail: Email: s.duggen@gl.rhul.ac.uk).

The Messinian salinity crisis—the desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea between 5.96 and 5.33 million years (Myr) ago1—was one of the most dramatic events on Earth during the Cenozoic era2. It resulted from the closure of marine gateways between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the causes of which remain enigmatic. Here we use the age and composition of volcanic rocks to reconstruct the geodynamic evolution of the westernmost Mediterranean from the Middle Miocene epoch to the Pleistocene epoch (about 12.1–0.65 Myr ago). Our data show that a marked shift in the geochemistry of mantle-derived volcanic rocks, reflecting a change from subduction-related to intraplate-type volcanism, occurred between 6.3 and 4.8 Myr ago, largely synchronous with the Messinian salinity crisis. Using a thermomechanical model, we show that westward roll back of subducted Tethys oceanic lithosphere and associated asthenospheric upwelling provides a plausible mechanism for producing the shift in magma chemistry and the necessary uplift (approx1 km) along the African and Iberian continental margins to close the Miocene marine gateways, thereby causing the Messinian salinity crisis.