Research Article

Onset of Mediterranean outflow into the North Atlantic

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Science  13 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6189, pp. 1244-1250
DOI: 10.1126/science.1251306

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The when of Mediterranean water outflow

The trickle of water that began to flow from the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean after the opening of the Strait of Gibraltar turned into a veritable flood by the end of the Pliocene 2 to 3 million years ago. It then began to influence large-scale ocean circulation in earnest. Hernández-Molina et al. describe marine sediment cores collected by an ocean drilling expedition (see the Perspective by Filippelli). The results reveal a detailed history of the timing of Mediterranean outflow water activity and show how the addition of that warm saline water to the cooler less-salty waters of the Atlantic was related to climate changes, deep ocean circulation, and plate tectonics.

Science, this issue p. 1244; see also p. 1228


Sediments cored along the southwestern Iberian margin during Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 339 provide constraints on Mediterranean Outflow Water (MOW) circulation patterns from the Pliocene epoch to the present day. After the Strait of Gibraltar opened (5.33 million years ago), a limited volume of MOW entered the Atlantic. Depositional hiatuses indicate erosion by bottom currents related to higher volumes of MOW circulating into the North Atlantic, beginning in the late Pliocene. The hiatuses coincide with regional tectonic events and changes in global thermohaline circulation (THC). This suggests that MOW influenced Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), THC, and climatic shifts by contributing a component of warm, saline water to northern latitudes while in turn being influenced by plate tectonics.

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