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Mediterranean Vacation: Lost Landscapes


The Mediterranean Sea offers more than a few beguiling aspects these days (as witnessed by the photo at left), attracting tourists in their thousands during the cold months farther north. All seems familiar, and even routine, about their vacations. But things were not always so; RT doesn’t have to venture as far as New Zealand or Madagascar to encounter the exotic in landscape and wildlife.


Imagine, if you will, a very different Mediterranean. We have been transported back almost six million years. The Strait of Gibraltar has closed tight. Within a thousand years of this closing, the entire Mediterranean has almost completely evaporated, leaving behind huge salt and gypsum deposits and a few brine lakes, filled with Dead Sea-like water. The exposed sea-bed lies 2-3 miles below that era’s sea-level. The air pressure on the abyssal plain hovers at 1.7 times the air pressure at sea-level today.

Things are hot and dry: 176° F at the lowest levels and rainfall, if any, is extremely sparse. Little, of course, could survive in this inferno.

On the other hand, the desiccated basin did support life at higher altitudes. Following great rivers such as the Nile, antelopes, elephants, and hippopotamuses all migrated into the basin, eventually reaching highlands that subsequently were turned into islands by flooding: Malta, Cyprus, and Sicily. At this point, the various species underwent insular dwarfism, resulting, for instance, in the Cyprus Dwarf Elephant, which weighted about 200 kg. (or 2% of its 10,000 kg. ancestors) and is believed to have survived until about 11,000 years ago.

Other species included the Cretan Dwarf Deer (Candiacervus), the Sardinian Dhole (a dog-like animal), and a dwarf owl.


All of this lasted only about half a million years. The Zanclean Flood, a gigantic inundation resulting from the sudden reopening of the Gibraltar strait, flooded the Mediterranean Basin, raising the water level at about 30 ft. a day. But readers should not assume that the reflooding straits took the form of a huge waterfall–the channel carved by the ocean waters was gradual, looking more like a river.


And that’s it for the latest Lost Landscapes post…perhaps our next voyage will take us to South America…   RT


Images: photo at topStrait of Gibraltar, Manfred Werner (photographer), Tsui (user); topogr map at right, Roger Pibernat. Both images: WikiCmns, CC 3.0 Unported, attrib-share alike. Bottom photo: Skeleton of Cretan Dwarf Elephant, Peter Maas, WikiCmns; CC 2.5 Attrib-Share Alike.

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  1. December 11, 2012 at 7:52 pm
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