Abstract

Between 5 and 6 million years ago, during the so-called Messinian salinity crisis, the Mediterranean basin became a giant salt repository. The possibility of abrupt and kilometre-scale sea-level changes during this extreme event is debated. Messinian evaporites could signify either deep- or shallow-marine deposits, and ubiquitous erosional surfaces could indicate either subaerial or submarine features. Significant and fast reductions in sea level unload the lithosphere, which can increase the production and eruption of magma. Here we calculate variations in surface load associated with the Messinian salinity crisis and compile the available time constraints for pan-Mediterranean magmatism. We show that scenarios involving a kilometre-scale drawdown of sea level imply a phase of net overall lithospheric unloading at a time that appears synchronous with a magmatic pulse from the pan-Mediterranean igneous provinces. We verify the viability of a mechanistic link between unloading and magmatism using numerical modelling of decompression partial mantle melting and dyke formation in response to surface load variations. We conclude that the Mediterranean magmatic record provides an independent validation of the controversial kilometre-scale evaporative drawdown and sheds new light on the sensitivity of magmatic systems to the surface forcing.

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Acknowledgements

P.S. is grateful to the Swiss NSF for providing funding for this project (Ambizione grant PZ00P2_168113/1). L.C. and T.E.S. were funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 677493 — FEVER). D.G.-C. was funded by the MITE CGL2014-59516 (Spanish Government). S.C. was funded by Swiss NSF grant No. 200021–146822. J.-A. Olive is thanked for helpful suggestions regarding Fig. 3 and all related aspects.

Author information

Author notes

    • Laurent Jolivet

    Present address: University Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC-Paris VI), 75005 Paris, France.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Geneva, CH-1205 Geneva, Switzerland

    • Pietro Sternai
    • , Luca Caricchi
    • , Tom E. Sheldrake
    •  & Sébastien Castelltort
  2. Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra Jaume Almera, ICTJA-CSIC, 08028 Barcelona, Spain

    • Daniel Garcia-Castellanos
  3. Intitut des Sciences de la Terre d’Orléans, University of Orléans, 45100 Orléans, France

    • Laurent Jolivet

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Contributions

P.S. conceived the scientific question, designed and performed the work and wrote the manuscript. L.C. contributed to the conception of the scientific question and helped with the MELTS modelling. D.G.-C. and L.J. provided fundamental insights into the available knowledge about the MSC as well as the Mediterranean geodynamics and magmatism. T.E.S. helped with the statistical treatment of data. S.C. contributed to the conception of the scientific question. All authors contributed to the design of the work and improved the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pietro Sternai.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo3032

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