IMMAGE: Investigating Miocene Mediterranean-Atlantic Gateway Exchange

during and after the Messinian Salinity Crisis

Amphibious drilling project involving both ICDP and IODP drilling to recover a complete record of Late Miocene-Pliocene Atlantic-Mediterranean exchange:

Marine gateways play a critical role in the exchange of water, heat, salt and nutrients between oceans and seas. The advection of dense waters helps drive global thermohaline circulation and, since the ocean is the largest of the rapidly exchanging CO2 reservoirs, this advection also affects atmospheric carbon concentration. Changes in gateway geometry can therefore significantly alter both the pattern of global ocean circulation and associated heat transport and climate, as well as having a profound local impact.

Today, the volume of dense water supplied by Atlantic-Mediterranean exchange through the Gibraltar Strait is amongst the largest in the global ocean. For the past five million years this overflow has generated a saline plume at intermediate depths in the Atlantic that deposits distinctive contouritic sediments in the Gulf of Cadiz and contributes to the formation of North Atlantic Deep Water. This single gateway configuration only developed in the early Pliocene, however. During the Miocene, a wide, open seaway linking the Mediterranean and Atlantic evolved into two narrow corridors: one in northern Morocco; the other in southern Spain. Formation of these corridors permitted Mediterranean salinity to rise and a new, distinct, dense water mass to form and overspill into the Atlantic for the first time. Further restriction and closure of these connections resulted in extreme salinity fluctuations in the Mediterranean, leading to the formation of the Messinian Salinity Crisis salt giant.

IMMAGE is an amphibious drilling proposal designed to recover a complete record of Atlantic-Mediterranean exchange from its Late Miocene inception to its current configuration. This will be achieved by targeting Miocene offshore sediments on either side of the Gibraltar Strait with IODP and recovering Miocene core from the two precursor connections now exposed on land with ICDP. The scientific aims of IMMAGE are to constrain quantitatively the consequences for ocean circulation and global climate of the inception of Atlantic-Mediterranean exchange; to explore the mechanisms for high amplitude environmental change in marginal marine systems and to test physical oceanographic hypotheses for extreme high-density overflow dynamics that do not exist in the world today on this scale.

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