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Black Sea



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A Bob Ballard Expedition:
In Search of Noah’s Flood


image: see legend
3-D computer model by Peter W. Sloss, National Geophysical Data Center/NOAA
National Geographic Maps


Submerged 500 feet (150 meters) beneath the Black Sea’s turbulent surface, the shoreline of an ancient lake—and evidence of a shift from fresh water to salt water—suggests that a flood of epic proportions washed over the region 7,500 years ago. That cataclysm may have inspired the Sumerian story of Gilgamesh and the oldest known account of a flood. And that tale may have led to the biblical story of Noah.

The theory was compelling. In their 1998 book, Noah’s Flood, American geologists Walter Pitman and William Ryan postulated that tales of a great flood found in the Bible and other ancient texts may have evolved from an actual catastrophic event: a horrific deluge that sent people living along the shore of the Black Sea scrambling to safer ground. That same cataclysm, they proclaimed, also transformed the broad basin from a fresh water lake to a salt water sea. By studying core samples of sediments and dating seashells, they determined that the flood most likely occurred about 7,500 years ago and that the shoreline of the ancient lake could be found 500 feet (150 meters) below the surface.

The next year explorer Bob Ballard sailed east from Sinop, Turkey, determined to test the theory. Using sonar, he found the shoreline exactly as predicted. Gathering shells from the underwater beach, he found that they, too, matched Pitman and Ryan’s findings. But what caused the flood in the first place?

At the end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago, oceans all over the world began to rise as glaciers melted. According to Pitman and Ryan, salt water from the Sea of Marmara poured into the Bosporus Valley and roiled into the Black Sea Basin, then a fresh water lake. Over time the new sea settled into layers of brackish water, oxygen-depleted salt water, and a mix of both. Core samples from the depths of the Black Sea showed light-colored sediments deposited when the basin was a lake. Then—because of organic material preserved by anoxicity—the sediment abruptly darkened, further evidence of a fierce and sudden flood.



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