Black Sea deluge hypothesis

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Map of the Black Sea

The Black Sea deluge is a hypothesized catastrophic rise in the level of the Black Sea circa 5600 BC from waters from the Mediterranean Sea breaching a sill in the Bosphorus strait. The hypothesis was headlined when The New York Times published it in December 1996,[1] shortly before it was published in an academic journal.[2] While it is agreed that the sequence of events described occurred, there is debate over the suddenness, dating and magnitude of the events. Two opposing hypotheses have arisen to explain the rise of the Black Sea: gradual and oscillating.[3]:15 The oscillating hypothesis specifies that over the last 30,000 years, water has intermittently flowed back and forth between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea in relatively small magnitudes and does not necessarily presuppose that there occurred any sudden "refilling" events.

Flood hypothesis[edit]

Black Sea today (light blue) and in 5600 BC (dark blue) according to Ryan and Pitman's hypothesis

In 1997, William Ryan and Walter Pitman published evidence that a massive flooding of the Black Sea occurred about 5600 BC through the Bosphorus. Before that date, glacial meltwater had turned the Black and Caspian Seas into vast freshwater lakes draining into the Aegean Sea. As glaciers retreated, some of the rivers emptying into the Black Sea declined in volume and changed course to drain into the North Sea.[4] The levels of the lakes dropped through evaporation, while changes in worldwide hydrology caused overall sea level to rise. The rising Mediterranean finally spilled over a rocky sill at the Bosphorus. The event flooded 155,000 km2 (60,000 sq mi) of land and significantly expanded the Black Sea shoreline to the north and west. According to the researchers, "40 km3 (10 cu mi) of water poured through each day, two hundred times the flow of the Niagara Falls. The Bosphorus flume roared and surged at full spate for at least three hundred days."[5]

Samplings of sediments in the Black Sea by a series of expeditions carried out between 1998 and 2005 in the frame of a European Project ASSEMBLAGE[6] and coordinated by a French oceanographer, Gilles Lericolais,[7] brought some new inputs to Ryan and Pitman's hypothesis. The results were also completed by the Noah Project led by Petko Dimitrov from the Bulgarian Institute of Oceanology (IO-BAS).[8] Furthermore, calculations made by Mark Siddall predicted an underwater canyon that was actually found.[9]


While some geologists claim it as fact that the sequence of events described occurred, there is debate over their suddenness and magnitude. In particular, if the water level of the Black Sea had initially been higher, the effect of the spillover would have been much less dramatic. A large part of the academic geological community also continues to reject the idea that there could have been enough sustained long-term pressure by water from the Aegean to dig through a supposed isthmus at the present Bosphorus or enough of a difference in water levels (if at all) between the two water basins.[citation needed]

Countering the hypothesis of Ryan and Pitman are data collected prior to its publication by Ukrainian and Russian scientists, including Valentina Yanko-Hombach, who claims that the water flow through the Bosphorus repeatedly reversed direction over geological time depending on fluctuation in the levels of the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea. That contradicts the hypothesized catastrophic breakage of a Bosphorus sill.

Likewise, the water levels calculated by Yanko-Hombach differed widely from those hypothesized by Ryan and Pitman.

In 2007, a research anthology on the topic was published which makes much of the earlier Russian research available in English for the first time and combines it with more recent scientific findings.[3]

A five-year cross-disciplinary research project under the sponsorship of UNESCO and the International Union of Geological Sciences was conducted 2005–9.[10]

A February 2009 article reported that the flooding might have been "quite mild".[11]

According to a study by Liviu Giosan et al.,[12] the level in the Black Sea before the marine reconnection was 30 m (100 ft) below present sea level, rather than the 80 m (260 ft), or lower, of the catastrophe theories. If the flood occurred at all, the sea level increase and the flooded area during the reconnection were significantly smaller than previously proposed. It also occurred earlier than initially surmised, c. 7400 BC, rather than the originally proposed 5600 BC. Since the depth of the Bosphorus, in its middle furrow, at present varies from 36 to 124 m (118 to 407 ft), with an average depth of 65 m (213 ft), a calculated stone age shoreline in the Black Sea lying 30 m (100 ft) lower than in the present day would imply that the contact with the Mediterranean may never have been broken during the Holocene, and hence there could have been no sudden waterfall-style transgression.

A 2012 study based on process length variation of the dinoflagellate cyst Lingulodinium machaerophorum shows no evidence for catastrophic flooding.[13]

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Wilford, John Noble (17 December 1996). "Geologists Link Black Sea Deluge To Farming's Rise". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Ryan, W.B.F.; Pitman, W.C.; et al. (April 1997). "An Abrupt Drowning Of The Black Sea Shelf". Marine Geology. 138: 119–126. doi:10.1016/S0025-3227(97)00007-8. 
  3. ^ a b Yanko-Hombach et al. 2007
  4. ^ National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Climate History: Exploring Climate Events and Human Development"
  5. ^ William Ryan & Walter Pittman (1998). Noah's Flood. Touchstone Books, pub. by Simon and Schuster. p. 249. 
  6. ^ ASSEMBLAGE—ASSEssMent of the BLAck Sea sedimentary system since the last Glacial Extreme, FR: French Research Institute in Oceanography 
  7. ^ Gilles Lericolais, FR: French Research Institute in Oceanography, archived from the original on July 26, 2009 
  8. ^ Dimitrov, Petko; Dimitrov, Dimitar (2004), Noah Project, BG: IO-Bas 
  9. ^ Nature 2004
  10. ^ IGCP 521, CA: Sea level 
  11. ^ National Geographic News 2009
  12. ^ Liviu Giosan, F. Filip; Constantinescu, S. (2009), "Was the Black Sea catastrophically flooded in the early Holocene?", Quaternary Science Reviews (26), pp. 1–6 
  13. ^ Neil Mertens, Kenneth; et al. (2012). "Quantitative estimation of Holocene surface salinity variation in the Black Sea using dinoflagellate cyst process length". Quaternary Science Reviews. 39: 45–59. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2012.01.026. 

Further reading[edit]