Spatola, D., del Moral-Erencia, J. D., Micallef, A., Camerlenghi, A., Garcia-Castellanos, D., Gupta, S., Bohorquez, P., Gutscher, M.-A., & Bertoni, C. (2020). A single-stage megaflood at the termination of the Messinian salinity crisis: Geophysical and modelling evidence from the eastern Mediterranean Basin. Marine Geology, 430, 106337. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.margeo.2020.106337
The Messinian salinity crisis was an extraordinary event that resulted in the deposition of kilometre-thick evaporite sequences in the Mediterranean Sea after the latter became disconnected from the world's oceans. The return to fully and stable marine conditions at the end of the crisis is still subject to debate. Three main hypotheses, based on geophysical and borehole data, onshore outcrops and climate simulations, have been put forward. These include a single-stage catastrophic flood, a two-step reflooding scenario, and an overspill of Paratethyan water followed by Atlantic inflow. In this study, two research questions are addressed: (i) Which event marked the termination of the Messinian salinity crisis? (ii) What was the sea level in the eastern Mediterranean Sea during this event? Geophysical data from the western Ionian Basin are integrated with numerical simulations to infer that the termination of the crisis consisted of a single-stage megaflood following a sea level drawdown of 1900 m. This megaflood deposited an extensive sedimentary body with a chaotic to transparent seismic signature at the base of the Malta Escarpment. Fine, well-sorted sediments are predicted to have been deposited within the thicker sections of the flood deposit, whereas a more variable distribution of coarser sediments is expected elsewhere. The north-western Ionian Basin hosts evidence of episodic post-Messinian salinity crisis slope instability events in the last ~1.8 Ma. The largest of these emplaced a >200 km3 deposit and is associated with failure of the head of Noto Canyon (offshore SE Sicily). Apart from unravelling the final phase of the Messinian salinity crisis and the ensuing stratigraphic evolution of the western Ionian Basin, our results are also relevant to better understand megafloods, which are some of the most catastrophic geological processes on Earth and Mars.