Hydrothermal Prospection in the Red Sea Rift: Geochemical Messages from Basalts

  • Froukje M. van der ZwanEmail author
  • Colin W. Devey
  • Nico Augustin


Hydrothermal circulation at mid-ocean ridges and assimilation of hydrothermally altered crust or hydrothermal fluids by rising magma can be traced by measuring chlorine (Cl) excess in erupted lavas. The Red Sea Rift provides a unique opportunity to study assimilation of hydrothermally altered crust at an ultra-slow spreading ridge (maximum 1.6 cm yr−1 full spreading rate) by Cl, due to its saline seawater (40–42‰, cf. 35‰ in open ocean water), the presence of (hot) brine pools (up to 270‰ salinity and 68 °C) and the thick evaporite sequences that flank the young rift. Absolute chlorine concentrations (up to 1300 ppm) and Cl concentrations relative to minor or trace elements of similar mantle incompatibility (e.g., K, Nb) are much higher in Red Sea basalts than in basalts from average slow spreading ridges. Mantle Cl/Nb concentrations can be used to calculate the Cl-excess, above the magmatic Cl, that is present in the samples. Homogeneous within-sample Cl concentrations, high Cl/H2O, the decoupling of Cl-excess from other trace elements and its independence of the presence of highly saline seafloor brines at the site of eruption indicate that Cl is not enriched at the seafloor. Instead we find basaltic Cl-excess to be spatially closely correlated with evidence of hydrothermal activity, suggesting that deeper assimilation of hydrothermal Cl is the dominant Cl-enrichment process. A proximity of samples to both evaporite outcrops and bathymetric signs of volcanism on the seafloor enhance Cl-excess in basalts. The basaltic Cl-excess can be used as a tracer together with new bathymetric maps as well as indications of hydrothermal venting (hot brine pools, metalliferous sediments) to predict where hydrothermal venting or now inactive hydrothermal vent fields can be expected. Sites of particular interest for future hydrothermal research are the Mabahiss Deep, the Thetis-Hadarba-Hatiba Deeps and Shagara-Aswad-Erba Deeps (especially their large axial domes), and Poseidon Deep. Older hydrothermal vent fields may be present at the Nereus and Suakin Deeps. These sites significantly increase the potential of hydrothermal vent field prospection in the Red Sea.



We are grateful for the help of the captains, crews and scientific shipboard parties of RV Poseidon and RV Pelagia expeditions P408 and PE350/351. We gratefully thank Jan Fietzke for the help with the Cl measurements and Mario Thöner, Matthias Frische, Dagmar Rau (all at GEOMAR) and Renat Almeev (University of Hannover) for technical support with the EMP, LA-ICP-MS and FTIR measurements, respectively. Antoine Bézos (University of Nantes) and Anna Krätschell are thanked for providing additional (sub)samples of the Red Sea. Reviews by three anonymous reviewers are greatly appreciated. We thank the Saudi Geological Survey for accommodating the workshop in preparation of this volume. We would like to acknowledge generous financial support from the Jeddah Transect Project, between King Abdulaziz University and Helmholtz-Centre for Ocean Research GEOMAR, that was funded by King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, under grant no. T-065/430.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Froukje M. van der Zwan
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Colin W. Devey
    • 1
  • Nico Augustin
    • 1
  1. 1.GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research KielKielGermany
  2. 2.Institute of GeosciencesChristian Albrechts University KielKielGermany

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