Abstract

There is a growing consensus that the sulfates and halite within the massive evaporite deposits on the shallow margin and deep floor of the Mediterranean sea formed in two steps. Both phases had geodynamic consequences. The current evidence indicates that during the first step when the first cycle “Lower Evaporites” were deposited primarily in marginal settings, the surface of the Mediterranean remained at or very close to the level of the external Atlantic. The geodynamic response resulted from the increasing weight of the brine layer as it concentrated from normal marine salinity to the threshold for sulfate precipitation and then to the threshold for halite precipitation. This weight alone significantly deepened the Mediterranean basins by isostatic loading. Flexure of the lithosphere caused a peripheral bulge to appear that may have been the agent to close off the further entry of Atlantic seawater. Step two began with the subsequent evaporative drawdown and the deposition of the second cycle “Upper Evaporites”. As the basins dried out the loss of weight of the water led to regional isostatic uplift that permanently closed the prior inlets. Sediments removed from the margins by early subaqueous mass-wasting and later subaerial erosion and delivered to the basin floors further accentuated uplift of the margins and subsidence of the depocenters. The principal result has been to progressively tilt the Mediterranean substrate downwards from the margin towards the basin centers. This tilting was enhanced with the flooding of the desiccated sea at the climax of the salinity crisis. Consequently the salt layer rests today out of equilibrium on a surface that is more inclined after precipitation than before. The current mobility and flowage of the salt away from its margins and towards the basin centers is therefore not so much a response to the differential thickness and weight of overlying sediments, but to the combination of geodynamic processes that have produced the seaward tilting. Other giant salt deposits seem to have experienced a similar two-step evolution.

You do not currently have access to this article.