I have just returned from the beautiful island of Cyprus. However, this wasn't a holiday (honest); it was fieldwork with my PhD student. We spent five days touring the island and recording rock outcrops so that she can investigate the Messinian Salinity Crisis and it's impacts on organic walled microplankton. The Messinian Salinity Crisis is one of the superstar geological events that should be as famous as the dinosaur killing meteorite, in my opinion at least! At around 5.9 million years ago the seaways (there were more than one during the Messinian) between Africa and Gibraltar closed. This trapped the early Mediterranean Sea and with the warmer than modern climate, created a giant salt lake. As you can probably imagine, life didn't respond well to this and it wasn't another 600,000 years before normal ocean conditions returned. If you ever find yourself on Cyprus, keep an eye on the road cuttings (keep the other one on the road!) and if you see a little sparkle on the rocks that is the Messinian Salinity Crisis.
Forty years after the image of the Mediterranean transformed into a giant salty lake was first conceived, the fascinating history of the Messinian Salinity Crisis (MSC) still arouses great interest across a large and diverse scientific community. Early outcrop studies which identified severe palaeoenvironmental changes affecting the circum-Mediterranean at the end of the Miocene, were followed by investigations of the marine geology during the 1950s to 1970s. These were fundamental to understanding the true scale and importance of the Messinian event. Now, after a long period of debate over several entrenched but largely untested hypotheses, a unifying stratigraphic framework of MSC events has been constructed. This scenario is derived mainly from onshore data and observations, but incorporates different perspectives for the offshore and provides hypotheses that can be tested by drilling the deep Mediterranean basins.