The project

MEDSALT aims to create a new flexible scientific network that will address the causes, timing, emplacement mechanisms, and consequences at local and planetary scale of the largest and most recent ‘salt giant’ on Earth: The late Miocene (Messinian) salt layer in the Mediterranean basin.

It is a 1.5 km-thick salt layer that covered the bottom of the deep Mediterranean basins about 5.5 million years ago and is preserved beneath the deep ocean floor today. The origin of the Mediterranean salt giant is linked to an extraordinary event in the geological history of the Mediterranean region, commonly referred to as the Messinian Salinity Crisis.

Mediterranean Salt Giant

Mediterranean Salt Giant (Lofi et al. Seismic atlas 2, in prep.)

This inter-sectorial and multinational cooperation network will comprise a critical mass of both experienced and early-career researchers from Europe and beyond. The goal will be achieved through capacity building, researchers’ mobility, skills development, knowledge exchange and scientific networking.

The study of the unique salt giant is inherently cross-disciplinary, embracing geology, geophysics, geochemistry, microbiology, and paleoclimatology. It is an opportunity for the scientific community to share objectives, data, expertise and tools with industry since there is considerable interest in oil and gas exploration, and consequent hazards, targeting the Mediterranean’s deep salt deposits.

The MEDSALT Action proposal has been conceived as a joint initiative coordinating scientific targets from existing research efforts including the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD), the Japanese and US branches of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), the EU- FP7 ITN MEDGATE, TOPO-EUROPE, and other national and international research programmes focussing on the Mediterranean salt giant.

Chair: Angelo Camerlenghi (IT)

Co-chair: Johanna LOFI (FR)

Grant holder (GH) Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale – OGS  (IT)

Science representative of the GH Angelo Camerlenghi (IT)

Manager/administrative representative Giorgia Rivoira (IT)

Finance representative Francesco Callegari (IT)

Legal representative Maria Cristina Pedicchio (IT)

Thematic Working Group 1 – Messinian Salinity Crisis

Leader: Dr Johanna Lofi (FR)
Co-leader: Francesco Dela Pierre

This thematic working group will address the causes, processes, and timing of the Messinian Salinity Crisis (MSC);

Task-specific scientific objectives:

  1. To test existing hypotheses for Mediterranean evaporite formation;
  2. To develop unifying models for the MSC salt giant;
  3. To reconstruct the paleoclimate conditions during the MSC and investigate the impact on global climate.

Task Specific deliverables:

  1. Document and publications compiling, with critical analysis, of all available digital scientific information on the MSC salt giant and publish the resulting data in easily accessible, open access synthesis documents and data bases (e.g. seismic atlas, isotope geochemisty data base, etc.);
  2. Document and publications including the reconstruction of the timing and modality of large scale evaporite deposition and its relationships with small- to large-scale climatic oscillations.

Thematic Working Group 2 – Salt Tectonics, fluids and geohazards

Leader: Dr Christian Hübscher (DE)
Co-leader: Dr Roger Urgeles (ES)

This thematic working group will address the influence of salt deposition in the deep basin in terms of deformation and fluid migration/accumulation.

Task-specific scientific objectives:

  1. To investigate syn-sedimentary salt tectonics and halite creep;
  2. To constrain post-depositional salt deformation and its consequences on sedimentary mass wasting;
  3. To establish the physical and mineralogical conditions that allow fluids to migrate in salt sequences.

Task Specific deliverables:

  1. Application of numerical thermo-mechanical models of early multi-layered salt deformation and creep triggered by salt-induced rapid basin subsidence and marginal tilt; publications.
  2. Document and publications describing the evaluation of the appropriateness of matured and complex salt structures as stratigraphic barriers and waste repositories.

Thematic Working Group 3 – Deep Biosphere

Leader:  Dr Vanni Aloisi (FR)
Co-leader: Dr Hrustem Smailhodzic (BA).
This thematic working group will address the abundance and diversity of microbial life associated with extreme environments (deep, hyper-saline, possibly high-temperature).

Task-specific scientific objectives:

  1. To determine whether evaporitic sulphate minerals are fuelling the Mediterranean’s deep biosphere;
  2. To establish whether the interaction between limiting factors (pressure, temperature, salinity) and a highly variable chemical environment may produce a diverse and novel deep biosphere community;
  3. To use the biomarkers and surviving microbes trapped within brine inclusions to reconstruct the depth, photic and oxic conditions of ancient, hypersaline depositional environments.

Task Specific deliverables:

  1. Inventory of the microbial communities, pore fluids and evaporite minerals in modern hypersaline systems (deep Mediterranean brine lakes, salt mines in Sicily, Red Sea) as modern analogues for the ancient, deep biosphere communities that developed in salt giants;
  2. Published synthesis of the valuation of the potential for microbial gypsum reduction in salt giants to produce subsurface accumulations of sour gas (H2S) which represent a major drilling hazard.

Thematic Working Group 4 – Deep Earth to surface processes interactions

Leader:  Dr Daniel Garcia-Castellanos (ES)
Co-leader: Dr Andrea Moscariello (CH).
This thematic working group will address the consequences of base-level change on river behaviour, the erosion, supply, transport of sediment, and landscaperelief and vertical evolution resulting from salt giant deposition.

Task-specific scientific objectives:

  1. To quantify the consequences of base-level change on river behaviour, erosion, supply, transport, karstification and landscape-relief evolution;
  2. To reconstruct a complete history of basin evolution, with a specific focus on the paleoenvironment, bathymetry and chronology of early sedimentation;
  3. To constrain the tectonic mechanisms that contributed to the closure of the gateways before the MSC and the reopening of the connection afterwards.

Task Specific deliverables:

  1. Documents and publications including the quantification and modeling (analogical and numerical) of the consequences of inferred baselevel change(s) during salt deposition on river behavior, the erosion, supply, transport of sediment, karstification, landscape-relief and vertical evolution of the basin, based on and comparing the different existing hypothesis.

Cross-cutting Working Group 5 – Data Management

Leader:  Dr Francesca Petrera (IT)

This working group will address the technical part of the interdisciplinary DREAM data storage, management, and dissemination in collaboration with all other Working Groups (WGs).

Task Specific deliverables:

  1. Web tools for data sharing and management.

Cross-cutting Working Group 6 – Training and dissemination

Leader: Dr Romana Kacic (SI)

This working group will address the organization of knowledge transfer and capacity building via Training Schools involving young scientists, the dissemination of the information to stakeholders, and the management of an interactive web-site and digital networking and scientific communication tools.

Task Specific deliverables:

  1. The identification of research frameworks at a national and international levels, including industry and administrations to promote the cross-disciplinary coordinatation of scientific activity;
  2. The training of the next generation of experts focusing on deep sea resources and environmental impact assessment in the whole Mediterranean area, including southern and eastern coastal states.

Download the MEDSALT MOU and read the MEDSALT Fact Sheet.