Exploring a “physical laboratory”: the Mediterranean Basin

The uniqueness of the Mediterranean Sea is due to its geodynamic evolution. The convergence of European and African plates has formed a semi-enclosed basin with particular features (e.g. having a negative hydrological budget and thus being an unstable biogeochemical paleo-environment) suitable as a multidisciplinary laboratory. Furthermore, besides its long and complex geological history, during the late Holocene has fashioned a unique cradle of civilisation.

The Mediterranean Basin encompasses a large number of different environments/ecosystems where complex physical, chemical and biological processes take place that have a strong impact not only to the adjacent areas but on a global scale as well. Main goal of this conference is to highlight the function of all these processes, their impact on the evolution of the Mediterranean Sea and, consequently, the global environmental response.

The climate of the Earth has witnessed important changes during the Neogene, including the waning and waxing of the polar ice sheets, changes in ocean circulation and tectonism, such as mountain building and the opening and closing of oceanic gateways. It is well known that the different salinity and temperature water masses interaction between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea affects eventually the thermohaline circulation of the Earth and thus, global climate. Neogene climate changes and the impact in biodiversity in the Mediterranean region could be used as an analogue in possible future scenarios regarding global warming.

The complexity of the floor of the Mediterranean Basin varies with the presence of several sills with depths between a few dozens to several hundred meters. These sills, from west to east, divide the Mediterranean Sea into a series of smaller basins: the Alboran Sea, the Balearic Basin, the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Sea. This peculiarity of the Mediterranean basin supports the formation of different physical and chemical conditions that ultimately lead to the existence of contrasting ecosystems – oligotrophic deep ones or fully eutrophic – as well as related anoxia events.

The conference would like to promote state-of-the-art research on the key role of the Mediterranean Sea as a physical laboratory basin, as it represents an ideal case study of processes of global importance. Additionally, the investigation of geochemical proxies in marine archives has been growing considerably during the last decades in order to obtain data for reliable reconstructions of the physical and chemical parameters - such as sea water temperature, nutrient contents and the state of the ventilation- of marine ecosystems. Scientists working either in the western or the eastern basins are invited to meet and share ideas and reinforce collaborations towards this direction, expanding our knowledge on the physical oceanography of the Mediterranean Sea since Neogene.

Bearing in mind its singularity and complexity, we are compelled to continue the research and investigate all the parameters – physical, chemical and biological – that endow the Mediterranean Sea with its unique character.