, 64:28 | Cite as

Recent evaporite deposition associated with microbial mats, Al-Kharrar supratidal–intertidal sabkha, Rabigh area, Red Sea coastal plain of Saudi Arabia

  • Mahmoud A. ArefEmail author
  • Rushdi J. Taj
Original Article


The supratidal–intertidal sabkha of the Al-Kharrar area, Red Sea coast, Saudi Arabia, contains the evaporite minerals gypsum, anhydrite, and halite. Microbial mats flourish adjacent to the sabkha evaporites in tidal flats and pools of the Al Kharrar lagoon. Desiccation and decay of some microbial mats in tidal flat areas have led to precipitation of gypsum and halite there. The evaporite minerals have been precipitated through displacive, inclusive, and replacive growth within mud, sand, gravelly sand, and bioclastic sediment of the sabkha. Gypsum occurs as lenticular and tabular crystals whereas anhydrite occurs as nodular (individual, mosaic, and enterolithic) and pseudomorphs of lenticular gypsum crystals that grew displacively and replacively near the surface of the sabkha. Halite exists as a diagenetic cement within the sabkha sediment, or as primary rafts and skeletal crystals in desiccated tidal pools with salinity over 220‰. Microbial mats are growing on the surface of the upper tidal flat areas and in pools at a salinity range of 80–110‰, and they lead to biostabilization of the sediment. They have induced a range of sedimentary surface structures (MISS) including gas domes, reticulate patterns, tufts, pinnacles, wrinkles, and microbial shrinkage cracks. The occurrence, abundance, and association of evaporite minerals and MISS are controlled by local environmental factors such topography of the sabkha, emergence or submergence of tidal areas, surface area of the evaporite basin, contribution of meteoric water from floods from the adjoining Red Sea Mountains, and water salinity. These factors promote the growth of the microbial mats in the winter months, and deposition of evaporite minerals during summer months. Field and petrographic data indicate that the main recharge to the sabkha area is from tidal flow and water seepage from the Al-Kharrar lagoon. The results of this study indicate that within a small sabkha area of Al-Kharrar (3 × 17 km), a large variation in evaporite mineral types and morphologies grade into and are associated with MISS due to local environmental parameters. The interpretation of this association of evaporite minerals and MISS provides useful data for understanding the mechanisms responsible for precipitation of evaporite minerals and formation of MISS.


Supratidal–intertidal sabkha Tidal flats and pools Recent evaporite sedimentation Microbial structures Red Sea Saudi Arabia 



The authors thank the Deanship of Scientific Research (DSR) at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, for funding and technical support under Grant No. 425/145/1436. Many thanks to the Editor-in-Chief Maurice Tucker and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and linguistic correction, which improved the manuscript.


  1. Allwood AC, Burch IW, Rouchy JM, Coleman M (2013) Morphological biosignatures in gypsum: diverse formation processes of Messinian (~ 6.0 Ma) gypsum stromatolites. Astrobio 13:870–886CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amos CL, Droppo IG, Gomez EA, Murphy TP (2003) The stability of a remediated bed in Hamilton Harbour Lake Ontario, Canada. Sediment 50:149–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andreeva PV (2015) Middle Devonian (Givetian) supratidal sabkha anhydrites from the Moesian Platform (Northeastern Bulgaria). Carbonates Evaporites 30:439–449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aref MA (1998) Holocene stromatolites and microbial laminites associated with lenticular gypsum in a marine dominated environment, Ras El Shetan area, Gulf of Aqaba, Egypt. Sediment 45:245–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aref MA, Taj R (2013) Recent analog of gypsified microbial laminites and stromatolites in solar salt works and the Miocene gypsum deposits of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Arab J Geosci 6(11):4257–4269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Aref MA, Taj R (2017) Hydrochemical characteristics of sabkha brines, evaporite crystallization and microbial activity in Al-Kharrar sabkha and their implication on future infrastructures in Rabigh area, Red Sea coastal plain of Saudi Arabia. Environ Earth Sci 76(360):1–18Google Scholar
  7. Aref MA, Basyoni MH, Bachmann GH (2014) Microbial and physical sedimentary structures in modern evaporitic coastal environments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Facies 60(2):371–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Babel M (2004) Models for evaporite, selenite and gypsum microbialite deposition in ancient saline basins. Acta Geol Pol 54:219–249Google Scholar
  9. Babel M, Olszewska-Nejbert D, Bogucki A (2011) Gypsum microbialite domes shaped by brine currents from the Badenian evaporites of western Ukraine. In: Reitner J, Quéric N, Arp G (eds) Advances in stromatolite geobiology. Springer, Berlin, pp 297–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Batchelor MT, Burne RV, Hernry BI, Jackson MJ (2004) A case for biotic morphogenesis of coniform stromatolites. Phys A 337:319–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Behairy AKA, Durgaprasada Rao NVN, El-Shater A (1991) A siliciclastic coastal sabkha, Red Sea Coast; Saudi Arabia. J King Abdulaziz Univ Mar Sci 2:131–141Google Scholar
  12. Bosak T, Liang B, Sim MS, Petroff AP (2009) Morphological record of oxygenic photosynthesis in conical stromatolites. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:10939–10943CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bosak T, Bush JWM, Flynn MR, Liang B, Ono S, Petroff AP, Sim MS (2010) Formation and stability of oxygen-rich bubbles that shape photosynthetic mats. Geobio 8:45–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bose S, Chafetz HS (2009) Topographic control on distribution of modern microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS): a case study from Texas coast. Sediment Geol 213:136–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Butler GP, Harris PM, Kendall CGStC (1982) Recent evaporites from the Abu Dhabi coastal flats. In: Handford CR, Loucks RG, Davies GR (eds) Depositional and diagenetic spectra of evaporites. SEPM core workshop 3, pp 33–64Google Scholar
  16. Cabestrero Ó, del Buey P, Sanz-Montero ME (2018) Biosedimentary and geochemical constraints on the precipitation of mineral crusts in shallow sulphate lakes. Sediment Geol 366:32–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cody RD (1979) Lenticular gypsum: occurrence in nature and experimental determinations of soluble green plant material on its formation. J Sediment Petrol 49:1015–1028Google Scholar
  18. Cody RD, Cody AB (1988) Gypsum nucleation and crystal morphology in analog saline terrestrial environment. J Sediment Petrol 58:247–255Google Scholar
  19. Cuadrado DG, Pan P (2018) Field observations on the evolution of reticulate patterns in microbial mats in a modern siliciclastic coastal environment. J Sediment Res 88:24–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cuadrado DG, Perillo GE, Vitale AJ (2014) Modern microbial mats in siliciclastic tidal flats; evolution, structure and the role of hydrodynamics. Mar Geol 352:367380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dupraz C, Reid RP, Braissant O, Decho AW, Norman RS, Visscher PT (2009) Processes of carbonate precipitation in modern microbial mats. Earth Sci Rev 96(3):141–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. El Abd YI, Awad MB (1991) Evaporitic sediment distributions in A1-Kharrar sabkha, west Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, as revealed from electrical soundings. Mar Geol 97:137–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. El-Hames AS, Al-Ahmadi M, Al-Amri N (2011) A GIS approach for the assessment of groundwater quality in Wadi Rabigh aquifer, Saudi Arabia. Environ Earth Sci 63:1319–1331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Flood BE, Bailey JV, Biddle JF (2014) Horizontal gene transfer and the rock record: comparative genomics of phylogenetically distant bacteria that induce wrinkle structure formation in modern sediments. Geobio 12:119–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gerdes G (2007) Structures left by modern microbial mats in their host sediments. In: Schieber J, Bose PJ, Eriksson PG, Banerjee S, Sarkar S, Altermann W, Catuneanu O (eds) Atlas of microbial mat features preserved within the siliciclastic rock record: Atlases in Geoscience 2. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 5–38Google Scholar
  26. Gerdes G (2010) What are microbial mats? In: Seckbach J, Oren A (eds) Microbial mats. Modern and ancient microorganisms in stratified systems. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 5–28Google Scholar
  27. Gerdes G, Krumbein WE, Noffke N (2000) Evaporite microbial sediments. In: Riding R, Awramik S (eds) Microbial sediments. Springer, Berlin, pp 592–607Google Scholar
  28. Gheith AM, Abou Ouf MA (1996) Textural characteristics, mineralogy and fauna in the shore zone sediments at Rabigh and Sharm al-Kharrar, Eastern Red Sea, Saudi Arabia. J King Abdulaziz Univ Mar Sci 7:107–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gornitz VM, Schreiber BC (1981) Displacive halite hoppers from the Dead Sea-some implications for ancient evaporite deposits. J Sediment Petrol 51:787–794Google Scholar
  30. Gunatilaka A (1990) Anhydrite diagenesis in a vegetated sabkha, A1-Khiran, Kuwait, Arabian Gulf. Sediment Geol 69:95–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Handford CR (1982) Sedimentology and evaporite genesis in a Holocene continental sabkha playa basin, Bristol Dry Lake, California. Sediment 29:239–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Handford CR (1991) Marginal marine halite-sabkhas and salinas. In: Melvin L (ed) Evaporite, petroleum and mineral resources, Develop Sediment 50. Elsevier, Amsterdam, p 66Google Scholar
  33. Hardie LA (1967) The gypsum-anhydrite equilibrium at one atmosphere pressure. Am Mineral 52:171–200Google Scholar
  34. Jepsen R, McNeil J, Lick W (2000) Effects of gas generation on the density and erosion of sediments from the Grand River. J Great Lakes Res 26(2):209–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kasprzyk A (1995) Gypsum-to-anhydrite transition in the Miocene of southern Poland. J Sediment Res A65:348–357Google Scholar
  36. Kasprzyk A (2003) Sedimentological and diagenetic patterns of anhydrite deposits in the Badenian evaporite basin of the Carpathian Foredeep, southern Poland. Sediment Geol 158:167–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kendall CGStC, Warren JK (1987) A review of the origin and setting of tepees and their associated fabrics. Sediment 34:1007–1027CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kovalchuk O, Owttrim GW, Konhauser KO, Gingras MK (2017) Desiccation cracks in siliciclastic deposits: microbial mat-related compared to abiotic sedimentary origin. Sediment Geol 347:67–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Leitner C, Neubauer F, Marschallinger R, Genser J, Bernroider M (2013) Origin of deformed halite hopper crystals, pseudomorphic anhydrite cubes and polyhalite in Alpine evaporites (Austria, Germany). Int J Earth Sci (Geol Rundsch) 102:813–829CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Li J, Li M, Fang X, Wang Z, Zhang W, Yang Y (2017) Variation of gypsum morphology along deep core SG-1, western Qaidam Basin (northeastern Tibetan Plateau) and its implication to depositional environments. Quatern Int 430(B):71–81Google Scholar
  41. Lokier SW, Andrade LL, Court WM, Dutton KE, Head IM, Land CVD, Paul A, Sherry A (2017) A new model for the formation of microbial polygons in a coastal sabkha setting. Depos Rec 3(2):201–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mackey TJ, Sumner DY, Hawes I, Jungblut AD (2017) Morphological signatures of microbial activity across sediment and light microenvironments of Lake Vanda, Antarctica. Sediment Geol 361:82–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Masoud M (2015) Rainfall-runoff modeling of ungauged Wadis in arid environments (case study Wadi Rabigh, Saudi Arabia). Arab J Geosci 8(5):2587–2606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mees F, Casten Eda C, Herrero J, Van Ranst E (2012) Nature and significance of variations in gypsum crystal morphology in dry lake basins. J Sediment Res 82:37–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Moore TA, Al-Rehaili MHA (1989) Geologic map of the Makkah Quadrangle, sheet 21D. Ministry Petrol and Min Resour, JeddahGoogle Scholar
  46. Noffke N (2010) Geobiology: microbial mats in sandy deposits from the Archean Era to Today. Springer, Berlin, p 194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Noffke N, Gerdes G, Klenke T, Krumbein WE (2001) Microbially induced sedimentary structures - a new category within the classification of primary sedimentary structures. J Sediment Res 71:649–656CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ossorio M, Van Driessche AES, Pérez P, García-Ruiz JM (2014) The gypsum–anhydrite paradox revisited. Chem Geol 386:16–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Perri E, Tucker ME, Słowakiewicz M, Whitaker F, Bowen L, Perrotta ID (2017) Carbonate and silicate biomineralization in a hypersaline microbial mat (Mesaieed sabkha, Qatar): roles of bacteria, extracellular polymeric substances and viruses. Sediment 65(4):1213–1245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Petroff AP, Beukes NJ, Rothman DH, Bosak T (2013) Biofilm growth and fossil form. Phys Rev X 3:041012Google Scholar
  51. Ramsey CR (1986) Geological map of the Rabigh Quadrangle, sheet 22D, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Directorate General of Mineral Resources, Jeddah Saudi ArabiaGoogle Scholar
  52. Riding R, Awramik SM, Winsborough BM, Griffin KM, Dill RF (1991) Bahamian giant stromatolites: microbial composition of surface mats. Geol Mag 128:227–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rosen MR, Warren JK (1990) The origin and significance of groundwater seepage gypsum from Bristol dry lake, California, USA. Sediment 37:983–996CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rouchy JM, Monty CL (1981) Stromatolites and cryptalgal laminites associated with Messinian gypsum of Cyprus. In: Monty CL (ed) Phanerozoic stromatolites. Springer, Berlin, pp 155–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rouchy JM, Bernet-Rollande MC, Maurin AF (1994) Descriptive petrography of evaporites: application in the field, subsurface and the laboratory. In: Tc French oil and gas industry association (ed) Evaporite sequence in petroleum exploration: 1. Geological methods, Technship edn, pp 70–123Google Scholar
  56. Sanz-Montero ME, Rodríguez-Aranda JP, del Cura MA (2008) Dolomite-silica stromatolites in Miocene lacustrine deposits from the Duero Basin, Spain: the role of organotemplates in the precipitation of dolomite. Sediment 55(4):729–750CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Schieber J, Bose PK, Eriksson PG, Sarkar S (2007) Palaeogeography of microbial mats in terrigenous clastics-environmental distribution of associated sedimentary features and the role of geologic time. In: Schieber J, Bose PJ, Eriksson PG, Banerjee S, Sarkar S, Altermann W, Catuneanu O (eds) Atlas of microbial mat features preserved within the siliciclastic rock record: atlases in Geoscience 2. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 267–275Google Scholar
  58. Shepard RN, Sumner DY (2010) Undirected motility of filamentous cyanobacteria produces reticulate mats. Geobiology 8:179–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Smoot JP, Lowenstein TK (1991) Depositional environments of non-marine evaporites. In: Melvin JL (ed) Evaporites, petroleum and mineral resources. Develop sediment 50. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 189–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Strohmenger C, Jameson J (2018) Gypsum stromatolites from Sawda Nathil: relicts from a southern coastline of Qatar. Carbonates Evaporites 33(2):169–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sumner DY (2000) Microbial vs environmental influences on the morphology of late Archean fenestrate microbialites. In: Riding R, Awramik SM (eds) Microbial sediments. Springer, Berlin, pp 307–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sumner DY, Jungblut AD, Hawes I, Andersen DT, Mackey TJ, Wall K (2016) Growth of elaborate microbial pinnacles in Lake Vanda, Antarctica. Geobio 14:556–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Taj R, Aref MA (2015) Structural and textural characteristics of surface halite crusts of a supratidal, ephemeral halite pan, South Jeddah, Red Sea Coast, Saudi Arabia. Facies 61(2):1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Taj R, Aref MA, Schreiber BC (2014) The influence of microbial mats on the formation of sand volcanoes and mounds in the Red Sea coastal plain, south Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Sediment Geol 311:60–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Vogel MB, Des Marais DJ, Turk KA, Parenteau MN, Jahnke LL, Kubo MDY (2009) The role of biofilms in actively forming gypsum deposits at Guerrero Negro, Mexico. Astrobio 9:875–893CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Vogel MB, Des Marais DJ, Parenteau MN, Jahnke LL, Turk KA, Kubo MDY (2010) Biological influences on modern sulfates: textures and composition of gypsum deposits from Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Sediment Geol 223:265–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Warren JK (1982) Hydrologic setting, occurrence and significance of gypsum in late Quaternary salt lakes, South Australia. Sediment 29(5):609–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Warren JK (2016) Evaporites—a geological compendium, 2nd edn. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  69. Warren JK, Kendall CGSC (1985) Comparison of sequences formed in marine sabkhas (subaeral) and salina (subaqueous) settings-modern and ancient. Am Assoc Pet Geol 69:1013–1023Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Petroleum Geology and Sedimentology, Faculty of Earth SciencesKing Abdulaziz UniversityJeddahSaudi Arabia
  2. 2.Department of Geology, Faculty of ScienceCairo UniversityGizaEgypt

Personalised recommendations