Articles | Volume 11, issue 2
Clim. Past, 11, 233–251, 2015
Clim. Past, 11, 233–251, 2015

Research article 16 Feb 2015

Research article | 16 Feb 2015

Changes in Mediterranean circulation and water characteristics due to restriction of the Atlantic connection: a high-resolution ocean model

R. P. M. Topper1,* and P. Th. Meijer1 R. P. M. Topper and P. Th. Meijer
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, Budapestlaan 4 3584CD Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • *now at: MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences and Department of Geosciences, University of Bremen, P.O. Box 330440, 28334, Germany

Abstract. A high-resolution parallel ocean model is set up to examine how the sill depth of the Atlantic connection affects circulation and water characteristics in the Mediterranean Basin. An analysis of the model performance, comparing model results with observations of the present-day Mediterranean, demonstrates its ability to reproduce observed water characteristics and circulation (including deep water formation). A series of experiments with different sill depths in the Atlantic–Mediterranean connection is used to assess the sensitivity of Mediterranean circulation and water characteristics to sill depth. Basin-averaged water salinity and, to a lesser degree, temperature rise when the sill depth is shallower and exchange with the Atlantic is lower. Lateral and interbasinal differences in the Mediterranean are, however, largely unchanged. The strength of the upper overturning cell in the western basin is proportional to the magnitude of the exchange with the Atlantic, and hence to sill depth. Overturning in the eastern basin and deep water formation in both basins, on the contrary, are little affected by the sill depth.

The model results are used to interpret the sedimentary record of the Late Miocene preceding and during the Messinian Salinity Crisis. In the western basin, a correlation exists between sill depth and rate of refreshment of deep water. On the other hand, because sill depth has little effect on the overturning and deep water formation in the eastern basin, the model results do not support the notion that restriction of the Atlantic–Mediterranean connection may cause lower oxygenation of deep water in the eastern basin. However, this discrepancy may be due to simplifications in the surface forcing and the use of a bathymetry different from that in the Late Miocene. We also tentatively conclude that blocked outflow, as found in experiments with a sill depth ≤10 m, is a plausible scenario for the second stage of the Messinian Salinity Crisis during which halite was rapidly accumulated in the Mediterranean.

With the model setup and experiments, a basis has been established for future work on the sensitivity of Mediterranean circulation to changes in (palaeo-)bathymetry and external forcings.