We characterize the eastern Gulf of Cadiz, proximal to the Strait of Gibraltar, using a multidisciplinary approach that combines oceanographic, morphosedimentary, and stratigraphic studies. Two terraces (upper and lower) were identified along the middle slope. They are composed of several associated morphologic elements, including two large erosive channels, which allow us to determine a new and more detailed understanding of the Mediterranean Outflow Water (MOW) pathway and its deceleration upon exiting the Strait of Gibraltar. There is evidence for along-slope circulation and additional secondary circulation oblique to the main flow. The present upper core of the MOW flows along the upper terrace and the lower core flows along the lower terrace. However, the lower terrace shows larger and better defined erosive features on the seafloor than does the upper terrace; we attribute this to a denser, deeper, and faster MOW circulation that prevailed during past cold climates. Development of the present features started ca. 3.8–3.9 Ma, but the present morphology was not established until the late Pliocene–early Quaternary (3.2 to older than 2.0 Ma), when the MOW was enhanced, coeval with global cooling, a sea-level fall, and an increase in thermohaline circulation. We propose a direct link between the MOW and the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and therefore between the MOW and both the Northern Hemisphere and global climate. Our results have enabled a better understanding of a major overflow related to an oceanic gateway, and are of broad interest to geologists, climatologists, oceanographers, and petroleum geologists.

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