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The watershed that drains

Planktivorous into the Blacksea covers
comb jelly most of Eastern Europe,
(Mnemiopsis and parts of Asia
leidyi) cteno-
phore invaded
the sea in eight-
A place of myth and
ies and caused
Editted by catastrophic drop
Michael Symes in zooplankton bio-
mass by eating it all


The Black Sea is interest- The Black Sea is an unusu-
ing not only for tourism al sea. Nearly one third of the
land area of continental Europe
and diving but also from drains into this sea into which
the scientific and historical seven large rivers flow, including
point of view. Atlantis? The the major rivers of the Danube, The Black Sea is the world’s largest mero-
Dnieper and Don. However, its mictic basin where the deep waters do
Flood? If you are a fan of not mix with the upper layers of water that
only outlet is the narrow channel
myths and mysteries then of the Bosphorus, which is only get oxygen from the atmosphere. As a
the Black Sea has some- about 70 metres deep and 700 result, over 90% of the deeper Black Sea
volume is anoxic water that lacks oxygen
thing for you, too. metres wide. The depth of the
Black Sea itself is more than 2,000 encing marine biodiversity in the Despite the fact that the Black surface waters can therefore sup- layer and a dead lower layer.
Text by Michael Symes metres in places. Black Sea. Most marine animals Sea biodiversity is reduced the port a rich and diverse marine life Due to the lack of vertical cur-
The inflowing rivers dilute the and plants cannot survive here. marine life here is still full of won- including Bottlenose and other rents there is little exchange
Black Sea, reducing its surface- For example, there are no corals ders. Due to the constant sup- dolphins, and seals. There are of the bottom waters with the
layer salinity to 1.7 % (17 grams of (but see below), no octopuses ply of nitrogen and phosphorus about 180 species of fish, includ- top layers. Unlike the upper 180
salts per litre of seawater) which and squids; no seastars, and no flowing into the Black Sea from ing tuna, anchovy, herring, grey meters of surface water,
is less than half of the average sea urchins living in these waters. the rivers, it has always been mullet, mackerel and the white replenishment of the
salinity of the oceans at 3.5 %. This On the other hand, there are very very fertile. Phytoplankton, small sturgeon. bottom waters can
reduced salinity is the most impor- few dangerous marine creatures marine plants, are therefore very The sea is unique in take hundreds of
tant environmental factor influ- in the Black Sea—no deadly jelly- abundant and form the basis of having two layers, an years. Bacteria in the
fish or stinging sea anemones. a long marine food chain. The oxygenated upper bottom waters con-

The Black Sea,

near Trabzon,
Eastern Turkey

Black Sea

A place of myth and mystery

Illustration of the bibli-
cal tale of Noah’s ark
and the great flood

in 1999, the comb jelly,

Beroe ovata, invaded
the sea due to a rise in
water temperature rise
of two degrees. And
this comb jelly eats only
mnemiopsis. That is why
food zooplankton start-
ed growing again. and
ovata established itself
in the Black Sea of its
own accord, either by
migrating naturally from
the Mediterranean or
possibly in ship’s
ballast water

sume all the oxygen and the sea corals are the oldest life form on Origin of the Black Sea to catastrophically break through Evidence for the flooding been confirmed by archaeologi-
is mostly dead below 180 meters. Earth. The Black Sea was once part the Bosphorus. From this event the Without doubt, some catastrophic cal investigations, especially off
Although the lower depths were Another peculiarity of the Black of a larger body of water that Black Sea took its present form. event did occur some 7,500 years the Turkish coast. In a series of
long believed to be completely Sea is the bi-directional cur- included the Caspian and Aral The dead lower layer may thus ago. The depth of the sea seems expeditions, marine archeologists
devoid of life, corals have recent- rent where it flows through the seas. About 22,000 years ago have been formed when the to have increased by some 100 led by Robert Ballard identified
ly been found at the bottom of straits of the Bosphorus to the the Black Sea began its life as denser salt-water flooded in, metres over about a year. This what appeared to be ancient
the Black Sea. These corals con- Mediterranean. The surface cur- a fresh-water lake. However, it when it would have plunged caused an increase in the area shorelines, freshwater snail shells,
tain micro-organisms processing rent flows westwards but there is appears that some seven to nine straight to the bottom. of the Black Sea, with local flood- drowned river valleys and tool-
methane and sulphates in total a deep current which simultane- thousand years ago, due perhaps ing around its edges. This has worked timbers at roughly 100 m
darkness. It is thought that these ously flows in the opposite direc- to melting glaciers and polar of water. Radiocarbon dating of
tion back into the Black Sea. ice-caps, sea levels rose caus- the remains of freshwater molloscs
Straits of the Bosphorus with ing the salty Mediterranean Sea indicated an age of about 7,000
Istanbul straddling the straits years.
Why it is called the Black Sea today What was the nature
nobody really knows of the flooding?
Lovers of the supernatural like to
claim that this was due to the
deluge, a period during which
it rained for 40 days and nights,
flooding the whole Earth, as
described in the events of Noah’s
Flood in the Bible, and in the Epics
of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis. The
oldest version of the Flood is the
Sumarian, recorded on a frag-
ment of a tablet, discovered in
ancient Nippur, which dates most
probably to before 2000 BC. So
these and many other historical
sources do seem to indicate that
The sea level before the flooding (dark blue). Before the
flood there was no Sea of Asov, and Crimea did not exist Noah supervises the building of
as a peninsula his ark in this woodcut illustration
from the Nuremberg Chronicle

Deck-mount- primarily be seen as a moral text not a
ed gun,
historical text. However, Fundementalist A literary digression He writes in Tristia:
Christians claim that Noah’s flood was
of the Black
Sea Fleet,
not a local flood in the Black Sea but
was a world-wide flood that has left its
mark on every continent on the planet.
The Euxine Still, if today I must pray for something,
return no more, I beg you to such a land
so long as I’m still detained in this next-to-
sunk in 1942. the world’s-limit wilderness.
This is hardly likely, though, as this would The Black Sea, also called the Euxine
require the sudden Sea, was originally known by the They call it hospitable. They lie.
production and fol- Greeks as Axeinos, meaning Unkind
Cargo wreck containing ceramic jars lowing disappear- to Strangers i.e. Inhospitable. By In short, he hated the place. But what
dating to the 9-11th centuries A.D. ance of three times apotropaic euphemism, i.e. in order was Ovid complaining about, apart
found along the trade route between more water than is to prevent evil, the substituting of from being exiled from all the delights of
Constantinople and Chersonesos on contained in all the an inoffensive word for one consid- civilised and cultural Rome? Why does
the Crimean Peninsula Earth’s oceans. ered offensive or hurtful, this epithet he consider the Black Sea inhospitable?
So, it appears of Axeinos was later changed to its Most tourists to Romania will know it as a
to have been a opposite, Euxeinos, Kind to Strangers warm summer resort. But as Ovid writes:
natural event and i.e. Hospitable. Hence, in Roman times
not the result of the Black Sea was known as Pontus I’ve seen the wide sea iced solid, a frozen
there was in fact a flood of some sort some supernatural Euxinus. slippery crust holding the under-water still
or other several thousand years ago. intervention. But of Many poets not just seen either: I’ve walked the solid
But as to this flooding being that which course, this won’t and authors have sea-lanes, crunching their surface dryfoot.
occurred when the present Black Sea stop people still written through
was formed, that is quite another ques- trying to associate the ages about He realises that his friends in warm
tion. There has thus been much written Noah’s flood with the Black Sea Rome might not believe him but writes:
about this topic, much of it pure guess- this event. but perhaps
work, but let us look at just one simple none so poign- Yet believe it: nor shall I leave you igno-
fact. Diving antly as Publius rant of the reasons why rugged winter
If the rate of rise of the sea level was possibilities Ovidius Naso, freezes the Black Sea.
100 metres for some 300 days, or perhaps For those who better known as
up to two years, many people would would like to dive the Roman poet He then goes on to explain that the
eventually have been displaced, and in the Black sea Ovid. He had influx of numerous rivers into the sea pro-
much agricultural land lost. However, this called catastrophic. To put it in practical there are many possibilities. However, been exiled in vides a fresh water layer riding above
could hardly be called a catastrophic terms, the sea level may perhaps have you should be warned that the water the year AD 8 by the underlying salt sea. This fresh water
event as compared to an earthquake or risen some 23 cm per day i.e. less than a is often quite turbid, giving poor visibil- Emperor Augustus, Roman poet Ovid layer, which is more easily frozen, com-
volcanic eruption where people cannot centimetre per hour. Hardly something ity. Black Sea water, particularly during to Tomis, now bined with a prevailing cold north wind,
escape in time, and are overwhelmed. you would call catastrophic except per- warm months, contains large amounts known as modern Constanta, on the causes the sea to freeze. This is scientifi-
For example, the dire events at Pompeii haps in the long run. of organic detritus and clay particles Romanian coast of the Black Sea, far cally correct. And thus, it still is today.
or Heraclitum, or even the recent tsuna- Apart from the indisputable scien- brought down by the rivers. Underwater from his beloved Rome, for offend- In summer warm and hospitable but in
mi event in South East Asia can really be tific evidence, all modern critical Bible visibility rarely exceeds severn meters, ing the Emperor in some, never fully winter, the climate can be terribly cold
scholars, to although on the South Crimean Coast explained way. and harsh, with the Black Sea freezing
quote the edi- visibility reaches 20 meters even in He is famed, of course, for his Art around its edges.
tor of the Biblical Summer. This is because the Crimean of Love and Metamorphoses. But Why it is called the Black Sea today
Archeology peninsula has very few rivers itself, and after his exile to the Black Sea he nobody really knows. In summer it can
Review, regard protrudes into the central part of the Sea, wrote many poems about his feel- be a beautiful blue. However, it can be
the tale of Noah away from the influence of the large riv- ings in exile, and sent many letters quite stormy in winter, and it is thought
as legendary. ers emptying into the Black Sea basin. to his family and friends back home that the name was given to it by sailors
The flood story The rocky sea bays of the Crimea are in Rome. These have been collect- and fishermen who were struck by its
should therefore thus ideal for scuba diving and there are ed in two works ‘Tristia’(Sadnesses, very dark appearance when the skies
many centres along the coast, for exam- Lamentations) and The Black Sea became overcast with storm clouds. ■
New live aboard ple at Balaklava, where there is a large Letters. These give a lively, if some-
now serve the dive underwater reef. Close by there are also what overwrought, description of his (The above quotations have been taken
traveller going to the underwater ruins of Kheroness, where life and the conditions that prevailed from Peter Green’s excellent translation and
the Black Sea. This part of the Byzantine city was swamped on the western coast of the Black Sea interesting introduction to Ovid: The Poems
is a fregat operat- by rising sea levels. ■ some 2,000 years ago. His observations of Exile. Tristia and the Black Sea letters.)
ing off the Crimean
still make interesting reading today.

Invaders of the Black Sea Study Reveals Leaks in Antarctic ‘Plumbing System’ Deep Water
The major part of the Black sea border of hydrosulphuric zone to Warming Off
consists of an up to 1800m deep
hydrosulphuric zone devoid of
get back to its “normal” level. nearly a half-mile of solid ice
below filled and emptied.
eye, but because the base of
an ice stream is warmer, water Russia
Oxygen. The concentration of life The blooming problem The study was published in melts from the basal ice to flow, A new report in Geophysical
forms are then found in a quite Another more serious problem the Feb. 16 issue of Science filling the system’s “pipes” and Research Letters is showing that
thin—about 130m—upper layer. are phytoplankton blooms. magazine. lubricating flow of the overlying intermediate water (200-2000m)
(see the figure three pages back) Phytoplankton is the basis of “This exciting discovery ice. This web of waterways acts off Russia has warmed signifi-
This makes the Black Sea quite marine food chain—it feeds of large lakes exchang- as a vehicle for water to move cantly over the past 50 years. The
sensitive to climate impact and almost all inhabitants of the Black ing water under the ice and change its influence on warming trend is accompanied
various biologic interferences. It sea ecosystem. Scientists have sheet surface has radi- the ice movement. by decreasing oxygen content.
is specially vunerable to invad- discovered that recent summer Position cally altered our view Moving back and forth This suggests that weaker over-
ing alien biologic species due to algae blooms in the Black sea of the of what is happening at through the system’s “pipes” turning (vertical exchange) is tak-
the almost closed character of were not caused by its usual dia- subglacial the base of the ice sheet from one lake to another, the ing place. The warmer water is
its water basin. If the Black sea tomic algae—but by the algae Lake Vostok in and how ice moves in that water stimulates the speed of attributed to a decrease in (cold)
basin were empty, it would take Coccolithophora, which has been West Antarctica environment,” said co-author the ice stream’s flow a few shelf water production in the Sea
about 2,100 years to fill it with detected in all the world’s oceans Scientists using NASA Robert Bindschadler. feet per day, contributing to of Okhotsk, an epicenter of global
Mediterranean water via too. However, Coccolithophora satellites have discovered an “NASA’s state-of-the-art sat- conditions that cause the ice warming. Warm water and low
the Bosporus. algae are not the only reason of extensive network of water- ellite instruments are so sensi- sheet to either grow or decay. levels of dissolved oxygen is prob-
the Black sea water trans- ways beneath a fast-moving tive, we are able to capture Movement in this system can ably bad news for deep water
Exchange parency drop. Two Antarctic ice stream that pro- an unprecedented three- influence sea level and ice melt fisheries targeting high latitude
Influx of vital oxygen invaders were detect- vide clues as to how “leaks” dimensional look at the system worldwide. cold water fishes.
from upper water layer ed there—two new in the system impact sea level beneath the thick ice sheet In recent years, scientists This is only the beginning of
to so-called cold inter- biologic species: comb and the world’s largest ice and measure from space have discovered more than the problem, however. This deep
mediate water layer, jellies mnemiopsis and sheet. Antarctica holds about changes of a mere three feet in 145 subglacial lakes, a smaller water warming trend and slowed
which defines the bor- beroe ovata. 90 percent of the world’s ice its surface elevation. That is like number of which composes overturning in the Gulf Stream is a
der of hydrosulphuric and 70 percent of the world’s seeing an elevation change in this “plumbing system” in the premise in a hypotheses by some
zone, happens mainly Mnemiopsis comb reservoir of fresh water. the thickness of a paperback Antarctic. oceanographers and climate
in winter. As tempera- jelly invaded the sea in With data from NASA sat- book from an airplane flying at Their research has delivered scientists suggests that global
ture fluctuations are most eighties and caused cata- ellites, a team of scientists 35,000 feet.” new insight into how much and warming might slow the global
evident in winter any cli- strophic drop in zooplankton detected for the first time the how frequently these water- conveyor belt to the point where
mate change will causes shifts in biomass by eating it all. s there subtle rise and fall of the sur- Flow ways “leak” water and how it shuts down in the North Atlantic,
hydrosulphuric zone positions. was no zooplankton left to graze face of fast-moving ice streams The surface of the ice sheet many connect to the ocean. ■ bringing on a new ice age. ■
A significant regional cooling, the algae water transparency as the lakes and channels appears stable to the naked
which onset in the beginning dropped significantly. Moreover,
of the 90s, has caused almost this comb jelly exudes tons of
total elimination of the layer of mucus during its vital processes.
cold intermediate water and its Plankton-eating fish have lost New Sub Dives to Crushing Depths
oxygen content. Consequently their food sources, consequently
the hydrosulphuric zone border their numbers dropped affecting Deepglider is a 71-inch long, “Reaching a
has risen by 12 m in recent 14-15 dolphins and predatory fish in the 138-pound device made of car- depth of 2,700
years. This equates to a decrease process. Fisheries lost up to $350 bon fiber that can withstand the meters (nearly
of the oxygen-containing zone by million per year in 1989-1990. deep ocean’s immense pressure. 9,000 feet) is quite Deepglider opens
about 10 %. What then happened in 1999 The energy-efficient, battery- a feat and promises to extend up new research pos-
was that the comb jelly Beroe powered glider carries sensors the nature and type of missions sibilities for oceanog-
Bad or good? ovata invaded the sea due to to measure oceanic conditions that can be carried out by glid- raphers studying global climate
However, everything is not as bad water temperature rise of two including salinity and tempera- ers,” says Princeton University change. The glider’s first trip
as it may seem. Oceanologists degrees. And this comb jelly ture—information that is key to engineering professor Naomi revealed unexpected warming
consider such evolution of the eats only mnemiopsis. That is why understanding climate change. Leonard. “You could even imag- of water near the ocean floor,
Black sea parameters to be food zooplankton started grow- When the measurements are ine a heterogeneous fleet of and scientists are interested in
reversible. Several cold years of ing again, even exceeding the complete, Deepglider rises to the gliders working in tandem at dif- studying whether the tempera-
oxygen influx to deep-sea water levels from before mnemiopsis surface and transmits the data ferent depths to explore this oth- tures are related to global warm-
layers will be enough for upper appeared. ■ via satellite to onshore scientists. erwise impenetrable undersea.” ing. ■

‘Hole in Earth’ discovered
in the mid-Atlantic
A team of British scientists five or so years that its existence
has set sail on a voyage has been known because it defies
existing tectonic plate theories of
to examine why a huge
chunk of the earth’s crust
Dr MacLeod said the hole in the
It’s called
is missing, deep under the Earth’s crust was not unique, but
Atlantic Ocean—a phe- was recognised as one of the most
nomenon that challenges
conventional ideas about
significant. “Usually the plates are
pulled apart and to fill the gap the
mantle underneath has to rise up.
Earth Day.
how the earth works. As it comes up it starts to melt. That
forms the magma,” he said. Here,
New Marine Interpretation Centre to Dr Chris MacLeod, from Cardiff the crust does not seem to be
open in the middle of the Atlantic University, said the Earth’s crust repairing itself.

Azores Gets Hi-tech

appeared to be missing across an
area of several thousand square
“Effectively, it’s a huge rupture—
one side is being pulled away from That’s not to say
kilometres—midway between the other. It’s created a rupture so
Marine Museum the Cape Verde Islands and the big, it’s actually pulled the en-

The new Virtual Centre of Marine

Interpretation is located in a
Caribbean, on the Mid-Atlantic
Ridge. The 20-strong team aims
to survey an area some 3,000
tire crust away. We also think the
mantle did not melt as much as
usual and that the normal amount
we need to treat it
renovated historical structure to 4,000 metres deep where the of mantle was not produced,” he
in Horta in the Azores—an old mantle—the deep interior of the said.
whale processing factory. In
addition to video and image
earth normally covered by a crust
kilometres thick—is exposed on
As a result, the mantle is exposed
to seawater, creating a rock called
like Dirt Day.
material, some of which is from the sea floor. serpentinite.
MAR-ECO, the Centre literally Experts describe the hole along The survey voyage, costing $1m
centres on a model submersible the mid-Atlantic ridge as an (£510,000), will be led by marine
that contains a number of com- “open wound” on the ocean floor geophysicist Professor Roger Searle,
puters with 3D simulations of the that has puzzled scientists for the from Durham University. ■
world underwater.
The project for Centre has This cross-section from Smith and
been co-ordinated by Ricardo Cann (1992) shows the crustal
Serrão Santos and Carla Gomes structure of the Mid-Atlantic
and has involved research- Ridge. The crust is made of
ers from the Department of seamounts and fissure-fed flows
(area above magma chamber).
Oceanography and Fisheries
Normal faults bound the edges of
(DOP) at the University of the the ridge’s inner valley.
Azores. The goal is to change Small separate magma bodies After more than thirty years, we thought it was time that the other 72% of the planet got some attention. Which is why we’re
public perceptions of the marine (gray ovals) feed individual volca-
asking people to Dive In To Earth Day the week of April 18 to 24. So grab some friends and install a mooring, do a reef survey,
environment that surrounds the noes. The solidified magma bod-
islands from one of exploitation ies make the lower oceanic crust. or organize an underwater cleanup. Everybody into the water. For more information, visit or call (415) 834-0900.
to one of understanding and Their results for all of the North
stewardship, with a focus on Atlantic suggests there are as
sustainable development. Dr. many as 85 million seamounts on
Santos is also a member of the the ocean floor. Two and a half
million of these are over 200m tall