Mediterranean Sea

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Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean with national borders
Mediterranean with national borders
ocean Atlantic Ocean
location between North Africa , Southern Europe and the Middle East
Tributaries Atlantic , Black Sea , Nile , Ebro , Tiber , Rhone , Cheliff , Po , etc. v. a.
Important islands Sicily , Sardinia , Cyprus , Corsica , Crete , Corfu , Rhodes , Malta , Mallorca , plus at least 4300 smaller and tiny islands
Cities on the shore Alexandria , Algiers , Antalya , Athens , Barcelona , Beirut , Genoa , Marseille , Naples , Palermo , Tel Aviv , Haifa , Tripoli , Tunis , Valencia , Venice
surface 2,510,000 km²
volume 4th.3e6  km³
Maximum depth 5267 m
Middle deep 1430 m

Coordinates: 35 °  N , 18 °  E

The Mediterranean Sea ( Latin Mare Mediterraneum , hence German also Mittelländisches Meer , more precisely European Mediterranean , in the Roman Empire Mare Nostrum ) is a Mediterranean Sea between Europe , Africa and Asia , a side sea ​​of the Atlantic Ocean and, since it is just one of the Strait of Gibraltar has a narrow connection to the Atlantic, also an inland sea . In Arabic and Turkish it is also called the "White Sea" (البحر الأبيض al-baḥr al-abyaḍ or Turkish Akdeniz ).

Together with the islands in it and the coastal regions of southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, the Mediterranean forms the Mediterranean area , which has its own climate ( Mediterranean climate ) and is characterized by its own flora and fauna .


The area of ​​the Mediterranean is about 2.5 million km² and its volume is 4.3 million km³. In the Calypso Depth, it reaches a maximum depth of 5,267 meters. The average water depth is around 1,430 meters.


Sea regions of the Mediterranean

The European Mediterranean Sea as the most solid countries or surrounded by the ocean separate the Mediterranean between the three continents of Africa, Europe and Asia. It is counted among the tributaries of the Atlantic Ocean .

In the west it is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Strait of Gibraltar, in the northeast via the Dardanelles , the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus with the Black Sea and in the southeast via the Suez Canal (since 1869) with the Red Sea , a tributary of the Indian Ocean .


The Mediterranean is strongly subdivided , especially in the east and north, by its own tributaries and bays .

In the depths, the sea is divided into two characteristic basins , a western and an eastern one, which are separated by the highly seismically active Tunisia-Italy threshold . With the Tyrrhenian Basin, a third, independent basin emerges here.

In terms of the natural structure, the Mediterranean is divided into a western and an eastern part:

Western Mediterranean
Eastern Mediterranean


The division into a western, central and eastern part is less common. In this case, the marine areas around the Italian Peninsula are counted as part of the central Mediterranean Sea: Ligurian Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Strait of Sicily, Gulf of Gabès (Little Syrte), Ionian Sea, Adriatic Sea.

Mediterranean countries

The following countries are part of the Mediterranean coast (listed in the order as they appear on a north-facing map clockwise, starting in the west-north-west, at around 10 o'clock): Spain , France , Monaco , Italy , Malta , Slovenia , Croatia , Bosnia and Herzegovina , Montenegro , Albania , Greece , Turkey , Cyprus , Syria , Lebanon , Israel , Egypt , Libya , Tunisia , Algeria and Morocco .

Gibraltar and the two military bases Akrotiri and Dekelia in Cyprus are British territories, but officially do not belong to the United Kingdom . The Palestinian Autonomous Territories share the Mediterranean coast with the Gaza Strip .

In the case of the Mediterranean, the two terms Mediterranean state and Mediterranean riparian state are almost synonymous, since all larger states in the Mediterranean region have access to the coast. The former also include the small European states of Vatican City and San Marino , and possibly Andorra and North Macedonia as well .

Islands and coasts

In the Mediterranean there are numerous archipelagos and individual larger and smaller islands. The island with the largest area is Sicily , followed by Sardinia . Both islands are also independent regions of Italy . Other large Mediterranean islands are - in descending order - Cyprus , Corsica and Crete . Cyprus and Malta with its neighboring islands are the only island states in the Mediterranean. With more than five million inhabitants, Sicily is by far the most populous Mediterranean island.

Major archipelagos

Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera
View of the Mediterranean Sea at Cape Bon in Tunisia

The most important island groups in the European Mediterranean are from west to east

Larger peninsulas

On the west coast of the Mediterranean lies the Iberian Peninsula with Spain and Portugal, which is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the north and west and connected to France in the northeast by the Pyrenees Mountains . To the east follows the boot-shaped Apennine peninsula with most of Italy. The Balkan peninsula between the Adriatic, Aegean and the Black Sea, which is defined differently in terms of its extent, encompasses most of Southeastern Europe. Also Asia Minor is sometimes seen as a peninsula between the Black and Mediterranean.

Peninsulas such as Calabria and Salento in southern Italy, Istria in Croatia (the largest peninsula in the Adriatic), the Peloponnese , Attica and Chalkidiki in Greece or the Gallipoli peninsula in the European part of Turkey are significantly smaller . On the far less indented southern coast of the Mediterranean are the Cape Bon peninsulas in Tunisia and the Cyrenaica in Libya.

Stretches of coast

Coastline of the Cinque Terre in Italy
City walls of Dubrovnik in Croatia ( Dalmatia region )

The coasts lie along the characteristic large areas of the Mediterranean , as far as the land mass is concerned, namely Iberian Peninsula , French Mediterranean Coast , Apennine Peninsula , Balkan Peninsula , Greece (as a peninsula of the Balkans), Asia Minor , Levant (Middle East), Maghreb (North Africa), where the latter area takes up the entire southern half of the coast, but is much less structured because here, with the Atlas Mountains, only one mass of mountains determines the coastline.

Known coastal areas:

Cities and metropolitan areas


The following rivers and streams with a length of over 200 kilometers flow into the Mediterranean Sea or its marginal seas :

The Nile Delta (left) and the Suez Canal (center)
Surname Length (km) State at the mouth Part of the sea of ​​the estuary
Acheloos 297 Greece Ionian sea
Aliakmonas 297 Greece Aegean
Arno 240 Italy Ligurian sea
Aude 224 France Western part of the Mediterranean
Ceyhan 260 Turkey Levantine Sea
Cheliff 700 Algeria Western part of the Mediterranean
Inside 285 Albania Adriatic
Ebro 925 Spain Western part of the Mediterranean
Etsch / Adige 415 Italy Adriatic
Gediz 405 Turkey Aegean
Göksu 260 Turkey Levantine Sea
Large meander / Büyük Menderes 550 Turkey Aegean
Júcar 498 Spain Western part of the Mediterranean
Small meander / Küçük Menderes 200 Turkey Aegean
Mariza / Meriç / Evros 515 Greece / Turkey Aegean
Medjerda 450 Tunisia Western part of the Mediterranean
Moulouya 550 Morocco Western part of the Mediterranean
Nahr al-Asi / Orontes / Asi Nehri 571 Turkey Levantine Sea
Neretva 225 Croatia Adriatic
Nestos / Mesta 243 Greece Aegean
Nile 6852 Egypt Levantine Sea
Piave 220 Italy Adriatic
Pinios 217 Greece Aegean
Po 652 Italy Adriatic
Reno 212 Italy Adriatic
Rhone 812 France Golf du Lion
Segura 325 Spain Western part of the Mediterranean
Seyhan 560 Turkey Levantine Sea
Goiter / Strymonas 408 Greece Aegean
Ter 208 Spain Western part of the Mediterranean
Tiber / Tevere 405 Italy Tyrrhenian Sea
Turia 280 Spain Western part of the Mediterranean
Vardar / Axios 388 Greece Aegean
Vjosa 272 Albania Adriatic

In addition, there is firstly the constant inflow from the Atlantic and secondly the excess water of the Black Sea over the Bosporus and the Marmara Sea . The net Atlantic inflow is around 70,000 m³ per second or 2.2e12 m³ per year, which corresponds to around 240 times the inflow of the flowing rivers. Without the water supply from the Atlantic, the water level of the Mediterranean Sea would drop by about 1 m per year.


Origin and development of the Mediterranean

The Tethys at the end of the Triassic (about 200 million years ago)
Relief map of the Mediterranean
Animated representation of the breaking up of the Pangea and the formation of today's continents .

The European Mediterranean is largely a remnant of the Tethys , a great gulf-like primeval ocean that was surrounded by the supercontinent Pangea . The formation of the Mediterranean Sea began with the breakup of the Pangea and the drift of the African Plate (at that time still part of the great southern continent Gondwana ) to the south during the Triassic and Jurassic . This opened the Tethys to the west like a zipper. The renewed north drift of the African Plate in the Chalk, which has meanwhile been separated from the Gondwana Association, and its collision with the southern edge of Europe from the Paleogene led to the increasing narrowing of the western Tethys and the Alpidic mountain range . The associated emergence of the Alpidic chains in Central and Southeastern Europe as well as in the Near East (Alps, Carpathians, Dinaric Mountains etc.) divided the western Tethys into a northern part, the Paratethys , and a southern part, which developed into today's Mediterranean (the eastern Tethys joined in the wake of the northern drift of India, which at the same time created the Indian Ocean). The collision of Africa (including the Arabian Peninsula) with the southwestern edge of what was then Asia in the Middle Miocene led to the separation of the Mediterranean from the Indian Ocean. The formation of the young fold mountains of the Mediterranean area and the islands as well as the distribution of the shelf areas and deep sea basins are the result of complex tectonic and geomorphological processes that have not yet been finally clarified. The oceanic earth crust of the western Tethys Basin preserved in the eastern Mediterranean is the oldest in the world, sometimes over 300 million years old.

About six million years ago, in the Messinian (Upper Miocene), the Mediterranean began to dry up. Before the Messinian, the Mediterranean was not yet connected to the Atlantic by the narrow Strait of Gibraltar , but by much wider inlets, which led on the one hand to southern Spain and on the other hand south of the Atlas Mountains. As a result of the plate-tectonic collision between Africa and Southern Europe , these sea connections closed. Due to the interplay between the oceanographic isolation of the Mediterranean basin and the arid climate in the region, the sea water evaporated and the water level sank. The forming salt desert is documented today in the sea ​​floor of the Mediterranean Sea in the form of mighty gypsum and salt deposits . A few millennia later, the Mediterranean basin was refilled by water flowing in from the Atlantic across the Strait of Gibraltar. This process probably took place several times six to five million years ago. The repeated evaporation explains the great thickness of the salt deposits. The entire period is known as the Messinian Salinity Crisis (MSC).

The Messinian salinity crisis resulted in a faunal cut in the Mediterranean area, based on which Charles Lyell , without knowing the cause, established the geological boundary between the Miocene and the Pliocene . In the Miocene there were large archipelagos in the Mediterranean, at times with land connections to North Africa. These were partly populated with tropical-African fauna: Old World monkeys ( Oreopithecus ), elephants ( Sicilian dwarf elephant ), giraffes, hippos, crocodiles. In the Pliocene, this fauna was largely replaced by immigrants from Europe, e.g. B. by saber-toothed cats ( Machairodus and Metailurus ).

In the periglacial of the Würm and Vistula Ice Age , the water level of the Mediterranean Sea was around 120 meters lower than it is today. This made the upper end of the Adriatic Sea ( Caput Adriae ) mainland, many Greek islands were connected to Anatolia, Sardinia and Corsica formed one large island, as did Sicily and Malta. A wide coastal plain stretched east of Tunisia. Extensive plains lay in front of today's mouths of the Rhone , Nile and Ebro . The entrance to the Henry Cosquer Cave with prehistoric rock carvings is now 36 m below sea level. The glacioeustatic rise in sea level at the end of the Pleistocene was about 0.2 cm / a.

In the early Holocene , the water level was around 35 meters lower than it is today. The barrier to the Black Sea was built around 5600 BC. Flooded.

The Mediterranean as a sedimentary basin

The sedimentation history of the Mediterranean Sea is closely related to the formation of the young fold mountains of the Mediterranean area. The latter are important delivery areas for the sediments, and the tectonic processes associated with the mountain formation were an important factor influencing the sedimentation dynamics. Large rivers such as the Ebro, Po and Rhone were and are important transport media for the sediments. The largest river system that flows into the Mediterranean is the Nile. It transports around 60 million tons of sediment into the eastern Mediterranean every year. Not to be underestimated, however, is the entry of sediments from the adjacent desert areas (especially the Sahara) by wind.

A notable feature of the Pliocene and Quaternary Mediterranean sediment sequence is the rhythmic occurrence of digested sludge deposits . The reason for this could be climate fluctuations with a weakening of the aridity in the region. The existence and non-existence of connections to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans (via the Persian Gulf) were also of great importance for the sedimentary evolution of the Mediterranean area - especially with regard to the formation of evaporites (see above).


Prevailing ocean currents, June
Bathymetric map of the Mediterranean

Partial basin

The Mediterranean consists mainly of four larger deep-sea basins underlaid with oceanic crust : The Balearic Basin, also known as the Algerian-Provencal Basin, which is up to 3255 m deep and is located in the western part of the Mediterranean, forms the smallest basin. In the western central part is the Tyrrhenian Basin in the Tyrrhenian Sea with a depth of up to 3758 m. In the eastern central part of the Mediterranean lies the Ionian Basin in the Ionian Sea , which is up to 5267 m deep in the Calypso Depth - the deepest part of the European Mediterranean. In the eastern region is the up to 4,517 m deep Levantine Basin in the Levantine Sea.


Since the Mediterranean has only a narrow connection with the Atlantic and is only 3,500 km long, it has hardly any tidal range . The highest values ​​for the maximum tidal range are in the area of ​​100 cm ( Venice ), 120 cm ( Trieste ) and 200 cm ( Gulf of Gabès ). However, large areas of the Mediterranean have a hardly detectable tidal range of less than 10 cm, only a few regions achieve values ​​of over 30 cm due to resonance .

There is a significant tidal current only in the Strait of Gibraltar and in the lagoons between Venice and Trieste .


The salt content of the European Mediterranean is around 3.8% higher than that of the Atlantic (around 3.5%). This is a consequence of the strong evaporation , which is not compensated for by the inflow of fresh water from the large rivers and streams (one speaks in this context of a concentration basin ). Therefore, at the bottom of the Strait of Gibraltar, a strong salt water current flows off into the Atlantic, while on the surface an even stronger countercurrent, corresponding to the net water loss, transports less salt and therefore lighter ocean water into the Mediterranean. The surface salinity increases from west to east from 3.63% in the Strait of Gibraltar to 3.91% off the coast of Asia Minor.


Climate diagram of Antalya

The climate in the Mediterranean area is characterized by very warm, predominantly dry summers and mild winters with high levels of precipitation . The mean air temperatures in summer range from 23 ° C in the western areas to 26 ° C in the east. Maximum temperatures are 30 ° C. In winter the values ​​are 10 ° C in the west and 16 ° C off the Levantine coast. The annual precipitation decrease from west to east.

Constant weather conditions prevail almost the entire summer under the influence of the subtropical high pressure belt; Only in the eastern Mediterranean (especially in the Aegean Sea) do the Etesia blowing from the north lead to cooling. In winter, the western part of the Mediterranean in particular is influenced by the westerly wind circulation (see wind ).

Winds with gale force penetrating from the north, such as the Mistral in southern France, sometimes cause striking cold air ingresses. The Bora (Croatian Bura ) is a dry, cold and gusty fall wind on the Croatian Adriatic coast. Bora-type winds, with their frequency and high average speeds (in winter), are among the strongest in the world on the Croatian coast .

Effects of global warming

The recent accelerated global warming has exacerbated existing environmental problems across the Mediterranean. For five broad and interconnected areas of impact (water, ecosystems, nutrition, health and safety), current changes and future scenarios consistently point to substantial and increasing risks in the coming decades.

The Mediterranean is badly affected by global warming . In 2019, a study commissioned by the Union for the Mediterranean and the United Nations Environment Program came to the conclusion that the Mediterranean Sea, with a temperature increase of 1.5 ° C since the pre-industrial age, compared to the global average increase of 1, 1 ° C warmer. The water temperature has increased significantly by 0.12 to 0.5 ° C since the 1970s.

Without additional protective measures, the regional temperature increase will be 2.2 ° C in 2040 and in some regions it may exceed 3.8 ° C in 2100. Summer precipitation will decrease by 10 to 30% depending on the region. Extreme events (heat waves, droughts, floods and fires) are becoming more common. The surface temperature of seawater has recently risen by around 0.4 ° C per decade; compared to the period between 1961 and 1990, the forecasts for the year 2100 fluctuate on average between +1.8 ° C and +3.5 ° C.

Since the middle of the 20th century, researchers have recorded a rise in sea levels , which has accelerated since the 1970s to up to 2.5 to 10 millimeters annually between 1990 and 2007. The sea level rise has averaged around 3 mm per year in the last few decades. The acidification of sea water is also advancing.

Flora and fauna

School of anchovies off the coast of Liguria

The fauna of the Mediterranean is very diverse and rich in species. It consists mainly of fish , sponges , cnidarians , molluscs , echinoderms and arthropods . It is estimated that there are around 700 species of fish in the Mediterranean. To date, 35 species of shark have been identified in the Mediterranean. These include species that are potentially dangerous to humans such as the great white shark , the blue shark and the short-finned mako . However, the population density of these species is low, which is believed to be the main reason that shark attacks are extremely rare in the Mediterranean. The most common are harmless species, such as the small spotted dogfish .

Striped dolphins off the north coast of Sicily

Whales are also found in the Mediterranean. Five species of baleen whales have been identified. In the Mediterranean, the fin whale is the only baleen whale that is regularly observed. So far, 16 species of toothed whale have been identified. These include the common dolphin , bottlenose dolphin , pilot whale and sperm whale . Whales and dolphins are most commonly seen in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Ligurian Sea ; especially the dolphins are native to the whole Mediterranean.

The only species of seal in the Mediterranean is the Mediterranean monk seal . It is threatened with extinction.

The most important and at the same time most common vascular plant species in the Mediterranean is the Neptune grass .

Underwater world off the coast of Sicily

Influence of man

The Mediterranean ecosystem is threatened by overfishing . It is one of the most heavily exploited marine regions in the world. According to Greenpeace, some fish species have already completely disappeared. Tuna and swordfish in particular are threatened by the high demand. In the case of sharks , more than half of the species are threatened with extinction .

The Mediterranean also suffers from a high concentration of microplastics . As an inland sea , it forms a veritable “plastic trap” and in the summer months the already high amount of garbage is increased by mass tourism in the mostly densely populated coastal regions. Although it only takes up one percent of the surface of the world's oceans, the Mediterranean Sea contains seven percent of the microplastics present in the world's oceans. With 1.25 million particles per square kilometer, the microplastic concentration is four times higher than in the garbage eddies in the great oceans . The largest input of plastic waste in the Mediterranean comes from the coasts and rivers of Turkey (144 tons per day), followed by Spain (126), Italy (90), Egypt (77) and France (66). Most of the plastic waste enters the Mediterranean from Turkey, Egypt and Italy.

During the 2006 Lebanon War , there was a devastating oil spill in the eastern Mediterranean .

The spread of the introduced species of seaweed Caulerpa taxifolia , which has begun to overgrow the native seagrass beds, which are of great importance for the bioproductivity of the Mediterranean, poses a threat with an impact on the Mediterranean ecosystem that can hardly be overestimated .

Further anthropogenic influences on the ecosystem of the Mediterranean are:


The Roman Empire at its greatest expansion in AD 117.
Ottoman Empire and Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries (the background map shows the borders of today's countries)

In the 8th century BC The Assyrian Empire expanded under King Tiglath-pileser III. his dominion as far as the eastern Mediterranean (Levant, Cyprus and Nile Delta). The Assyrians called the Mediterranean the "Upper Sea of ​​the Sunset" or simply the Upper Sea .

Economically and culturally, the Mediterranean area became in the first millennium BC. Dominated most of the time by the Greeks and Phoenicians . Both peoples, however, did not have closed empires, but were split up into individual city- states. The only exception among the Greeks was the Alexander Empire , which began around 330 BC. BC occupied the entire eastern Mediterranean area. Although it only existed for a few years, it permanently consolidated the influence of Greek culture in this region (see →  Hellenism ). Carthage , a Phoenician colony in what is now Tunisia, developed from around 550 BC. BC to an area state, which until the 3rd century BC. BC held the supremacy in the western Mediterranean (see →  History of Carthage ).

From the Second Punic War (218–201 BC), the Romans ruled large parts of the Mediterranean and called it mare nostrum (“our sea”). In the year 30 BC BC Egypt became a Roman province. Under the rule of Emperor Claudius (41–54 AD), the ancient kingdom of Mauritania (a very extensive region in northwestern Africa that has nothing to do with today's Mauritania ) was finally conquered by the Romans. From then on, the Roman Empire ( Imperium Romanum ) enclosed the entire Mediterranean for the next 300 years.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Eastern Roman Empire, later called the Byzantine Empire , initially remained a regional power in the eastern Mediterranean. In the 7th century, large parts of the Mediterranean area came under Arab rule (see also →  Umayyads ). In the 11th century the Turks, coming from Central Asia, largely displaced the Byzantines from Asia Minor. In 1453 they conquered Constantinople and finally smashed the Byzantine Empire. Subsequently, the Ottoman Empire expanded to include numerous successor states of the Umayyad Caliphate and remained the most important power in the Mediterranean region into the 19th century. The Venetians were bitter opponents of the Turks in the struggle for supremacy at sea in the 15th and 16th centuries .

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, almost the entire Mediterranean region came under the control of European powers, particularly France and Great Britain . During the First World War (1914–1918) and even more so in the Second World War (1939–1945), the Mediterranean was also a theater of war. In the second half of the 20th century, the European colonies in North Africa and on the eastern Mediterranean coast gradually gained their independence. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 is of particular historical significance in several respects (see also →  Middle East conflict ).

In the 21st century, the Mediterranean is the scene of a migration movement from the underdeveloped, poor and often additionally shaken by political crises and conflicts in Africa and the Near and Middle East to the highly developed, prosperous and politically stable countries of Western Europe (see →  Flight and migration across the Mediterranean to the EU and →  Refugee crisis in Europe 2015 ).

See also


  • David Abulafia : The Mediterranean: A Biography. (Original title: The Great Sea , translated by Michael Bischoff). Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-10-000904-3 ( review)
  • Andreas Bärtels: Plants of the Mediterranean area. Ulmer, 2003, ISBN 3-8001-3287-7 .
  • Matthias Bergbauer, Bernd Humberg: What lives in the Mediterranean? Franckh-Kosmos, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-440-07733-0 .
  • Fernand Braudel : The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Epoch of Philip II. (Original title: La méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II. Translated by Günter Seib). 3 volumes, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1990, ISBN 3-518-58056-6 . (as paperback: Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft; 1354, Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-518-28954-3 )
  • Christian Bromberger: L'anthropologie de la Méditerranée. Maisonneuve et Larose; Aix-en-Provence, Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l'homme, Paris 2001.
  • Robert Hofrichter: The Mediterranean, Volume 1: General part. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2002, ISBN 3-8274-1050-9 .
  • Robert Hofrichter: The Mediterranean, Volume 2/2: destination guide. Spectrum Academic Publishing House, Heidelberg 2006, ISBN 3-8274-1170-X .
  • Manfred Leier: World Atlas of the Oceans - with the depth maps of the world's oceans. Frederking and Thaler, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-89405-441-7 , pp. 226-241.
  • Horst-Günter Wagner: Mediterranean area. Geography, history, economics, politics. 2nd Edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2011, ISBN 978-3-534-23179-9 .

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Individual evidence

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  5. Robert Hofrichter (ed.): The Mediterranean: History and Future of an Ecologically Sensitive Area , p. 530
  6. Nadja Podbregar: The great flood. Researchers unravel the prehistoric catastrophe on the Mediterranean
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