Thanks to the scientists of the Institute of Oceanography (IO) of the University of São Paulo (USP), who discovered the dimensions of the huge Paratithis Lake, the prehistoric body of water has just entered the world. Guinnessbook of records, as the largest lake of all time.
Responsible for this breakthrough are researchers led by Romanian Dan Valentin Balcu, a postdoctoral fellow at IO/USP. The team used a technique called magnetic mapping — which applies recording polarity reversals in the Earth's magnetic field in rocks as a dating tool — and digital paleogeographic reconstructions to determine the size and scale of Paratethys.
According to the study, it is estimated that this lake, at its peak, about 10 million years ago, covered an area of 2.8 million square kilometers – slightly larger than the area of the current Mediterranean Sea – and had a volume of more than 1.77 million cubic meters. Kilometers of salt water.
It has long been thought that a prehistoric sea, known as the Sarmatian Sea, existed there, but we now have clear evidence that for about 5 million years this sea became a lake – cut off from the ocean and filled with animals never seen before. around the world.
Dan Valentin Balko, lead author of the study, published in 2021 in the journal Scientific reports
The largest lake in history was home to the smallest whale ever
The second stage, in statementThe huge Paratethys Lake featured a unique endemic fauna, including… Cetotherium rebinini -The smallest whale ever found.
The study also reveals the turbulent history of Paratethis, which was marked by multiple hydrological crises and periods of drought. During the most severe crisis, the huge lake lost more than two-thirds of its surface and a third of its volume, with water levels dropping by up to 250 metres. This had a devastating impact on wildlife, and many species became extinct.
For Balko, the investigations go beyond mere curiosity. “It reveals an ecosystem that responds very sharply to climate fluctuations. By exploring the disasters that this huge ancient lake has suffered as a result of climate change, we are obtaining valuable information that can shed light on the potential environmental crises caused by climate change that our planet is currently experiencing, especially Insights into the stability of toxic water basins such as the Black Sea.” .
He explains that the modern Black Sea reflects many of the ecological features of its ancient counterpart, Paratethys. The depths of the Black Sea, largely devoid of the oxygen needed for life, contain waters rich in hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas harmful to humans and most animal species.
Furthermore, its sediments contain “frozen” methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas that can be released into the atmosphere in response to global warming, thus sparking numerous environmental disasters.
Prevent future environmental disasters
Deciphering the story of Paratithis is not just a journey into the tragic past, but also a beacon of hope for the future, Balko emphasizes. “The Black Sea has the potential to become one of the largest natural carbon storage areas on Earth. Its stability is of paramount importance to unlock its potential for future carbon storage initiatives and prevent future environmental disasters.
The study was a collaboration between the University of the South Pacific (Brazil), Utrecht University (Netherlands), Russian Academy of Sciences (Russia), Senckenberg Center for Biodiversity and Climate Research (Germany) and the University of Bucharest (Romania) and was funded by FSP.
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