Discover the biblical flood that created today’s Mediterranean Sea
Discover the biblical flood that created today’s Mediterranean Sea

Discover the biblical flood that created today’s Mediterranean Sea

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most important geological features in Europe and northern Africa, but did you know that it may be a fairly recent development? Some scientists estimate that the Mediterranean Sea may once have been a large, valley-like land with a thriving animal population. However, during a geological event, the Atlantic Ocean flooded the region and created the body of water we know today as the Mediterranean Sea. Let’s discover the biblical flood that created today’s Mediterranean Sea!

What is the Zanclean flood?

Discover the biblical flood that created today's Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea was potentially created when the Strait of Gibraltar was eroded, allowing the Atlantic to fill the Mediterranean basin.


The Zanclean Flood is a theory that explains how today’s Mediterranean became the body of water it is today.

The Zanclean Flood (or Zanclean Flood) is a theory proposed by scientists to explain how the Atlantic Ocean filled the Mediterranean basin. This massive event would have been the beginning of the Zanclee Age and would have meant the likely extermination of any animals or plants that happened to be in the region at the time.

Although this theory is not totally accepted, it is still seen as a potential solution for filling the basin. At its core, the theory states that the event was caused by the opening of the Strait of Gibraltar, either through tectonic subsidence, erosion of a watercourse, or rising sea levels. The most common belief is that a stream slowly eroded the strait until the Atlantic Ocean finally passed through, allowing the massive region to fill with water.

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Once the strait was eroded, Atlantic water is estimated to have dropped 0.6 miles to the bottom of the basin at a rate of 100 million cubic meters per second, or nearly 1,000 times the flow of the river Amazon. Estimates vary, but the water rise in the basin’s bay may have been as close as 30 feet per day, taking anywhere from a few months to two years to fill completely.

When did the Zanclean flood occur?

Current estimates for when the Zanclean flood occurred place the event around 5.33 million years ago. No humans were alive at that time, although many animals and plants were probably killed during this great flood. If humans existed during the cataclysmic event, it is as if many ancient myths were created to explain this unique moment. Regardless, there were no ancient humans during this time, although the last common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees potentially lived during this time.

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What were the consequences of the Zanclean flood?

The fastest water animals
Many ocean-dwelling animals managed to migrate to the Mediterranean after the Zanclean flood.

Although the Zanclean flood occurred before human existence, the regional consequences were still monumental.

Before the flood, animals could cross the basin from Europe to Africa. After the flood, the passage was effectively cut off, segmenting and isolating the once transitional region, allowing speciation on both sides of the sea. An example of this can be seen in Psammophis odysseus, an ancient species of snake that once lived in Africa and the southern region of Europe. The snake lived about 5.5 million years ago, disappearing in Europe shortly after the flood. Her relatives in Africa, however, lived on and continued to evolve.

While the flood stopped the migration of some animals, it encouraged others, especially in the ocean. When the waters settled, there was a massive new landscape for animal migration in the Mediterranean. Once the water region was established, animals such as cetaceans (whales) and pinnipeds (seals) lived in the area.

In addition to interfering with animal migration, the flood also changed the weather of the resulting region. Records show that a significantly smaller flood in antiquity triggered a cold period, making it highly likely that the massive flood had far-reaching effects on temperature. Estimates show that the potential cooling region reached as far as modern New Caledonia, near Australia.

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Did animals die during the Zanclean flood?

Things were probably not good for any animals in the Mediterranean basin at the time. Due to the amount of water, seismic activity was triggered, causing landslides and tsunamis over 330 feet high. Additionally, any sea life initially thrown into the basin would have been killed, as the water was still shallow and mixed with lots of sediment.

Have there been other large-scale floods on Earth?

Discover the biblical flood that created today's Mediterranean Sea
Lake Bonneville was once the site of the second largest flood in geologic history.

Robert Stolting/

Although the Zanclean flood is one of the largest, other similar floods have existed throughout history. In North America, the Bonneville Flood overflowed the Snake River Basin near the last ice age and is known as the second largest flood in geologic history. The Black Sea Flood Hypothesis is similar to the Zanclean Flood Hypothesis and examines the possibility of the Mediterranean Sea flooding into the Black Sea through the Bosphorus.