Origin of Submarine Channel North of Hanish Sill, Red Sea

  • Neil C. MitchellEmail author
  • Sarantis S. Sofianos


Submarine channels several kilometres wide can be found near sills between major basins but they typically lie on the sides of the sills where dense bottom waters passing between the basins form gravity currents. In the southernmost Red Sea, in contrast, an 8 km-wide and 100- to 250-m deep channel lies on the north side of Hanish Sill, in an area where the strongest bottom currents flow southward, associated with winter expulsion of dense saline Red Sea deep water. Current meter data collected 10 m or more above the seabed over the sill reveal speeds occasionally exceeding 1 m s−1, which are sufficient to mobilize very coarse sand and have likely prevented deposition of finer sediments in the channel, particularly for parts of the channel affected by Red Sea Outflow Water (RSOW). However, the channel extends below 200 m depths, where Red Sea Deep Water is more sluggish (typically <1 cm s−1). Although the stronger currents may help to maintain the upper channel morphology, it is unclear how they would have created the channel, nor can modern currents explain the deeper parts of the channel. The channel is straight and runs parallel with the spreading rift to the north, suggesting that faults may underlie the channel, though a tectonic origin (graben) is not supported by Bouguer gravity anomalies, which reveal no underlying structure. Alternatively, the channel may have originated much earlier, from massive inflow of Indian Ocean water into the Red Sea following earlier isolation and drawdown of its level. These and other possible origins of the channel are discussed in the light of limited public data from the area.



Rose Anne Weissel is thanked for help in locating and scanning the RV Conrad data used in this study. All other data besides the current meter records used here were obtained from public sources (,, Andrew Goodwillie clarified the origin of data contributing to the GMRT grid in this area. Eelco Rohling explained why deep drawdown was unlikely to have occurred in the late Pleistocene. We would like to thank the Saudi Geological Survey for organizing the publication of this book on the Red Sea. Thanks also to Graeme Eagles for reviewing an earlier version of this chapter and to the three anonymous reviewers of the present chapter for helpful comments. Figures in this article were created with the “GMT” software system (Wessel and Smith 1991).


  1. Almogi-Labin A, Hemleben C, Meischner D, Erlenkeuser H (1996) Response of Red Sea deep-water agglutinated foraminifera to water-mass changes during the Late Quaternary. Mar Micropal 28:283–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Almogi-Labin A, Hemleben C, Meischner D (1998) Carbonate preservation and climate changes in the central Red Sea during the last 380 kyr as recorded by pteropods. Mar Micropal 33:87–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berger WH, Piper DJW (1972) Planktonic foraminifera: differential settling, dissolution and redeposition. Limn Oceanogr 17:275–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berthois L, Le Calvez Y (1960) Etude de la vitesse de chute des coquilles de foraminiferes planctoniques dans un fluide comparativement a celle de grains de quartz. Inst Peches Mar 24:293–301Google Scholar
  5. Biton E, Hildor H, Peltier WR (2008) Red Sea during the last glacial maximum: implications for sea level reconstruction. Paleocean 23:paper PA1214. Scholar
  6. Bosworth W, Huchon P, McClay K (2005) The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden basins. J African Earth Sci 43:334–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boudreaux JE (1974) Calcareous nannoplankton ranges, Deep Sea Drilling Project Leg 23. In: Whitmarsh RB, Wesser DE, Ross DA (eds) Initial reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, pp 1073–1090Google Scholar
  8. Bower AS, Johns WE, Fratantoni DM, Peters H (2005) Equilibration and circulation of Red Sea outflow water in the western Gulf of Aden. J Phys Ocean 35:1963–1985CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bunter MAG, Abdel Magid AEM (1989) The Sudanese Red Sea: 1. New developments in stratigraphy and petroleum-geological evolution. J Petrol Geol 12:145–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cande SC, Kent DV (1995) Revised calibration of the geomagnetic polarity timescale for the late Cretaceous and Cenozoic. J Geophys Res 100:6093–6095CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cember RP (1988) On the sources, formation, and circulation of Red Sea deep water. J Geophys Res 93:8175–8191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chang YS, Özgökmen TM, Peters H, Xu X (2008) Numerical simulation of the Red Sea outflow using HYCOM and comparison with REDSOX observations. J Phys Ocean 38:337–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chu D, Gordon RG (1998) Current plate motions across the Red Sea. Geophys J Int 135:313–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Coleman RG (1974) Geologic background of the Red Sea. In: Whitmarsh RB, Weser OE, Ross DA (eds) Initial reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, vol 23. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, pp 813–819Google Scholar
  15. Eagles G, Gloaguen R, Ebinger C (2002) Kinematics of the Danakil microplate. Earth Planet Sci Lett 203:607–620CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Einsele G, Werner F (1972) Sedimentary processes at the entrance Gulf of Aden/Red Sea. In: Seibold E, Closs H (eds) “Meteor” Forschungsergebnisse, Reihe C. Bornträger, Berlin, pp 39–62Google Scholar
  17. Eriş KK, Ryan WBF, Çağatay MN, Sancar U, Lericolais G, Ménot G, Bard E (2007) The timing and evolution of the post-glacial transgression across the Sea of Marmara shelf south of İstanbul. Mar Geol 243:57–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fenton M, Geiselhart S, Rohling EJ, Hemleben C (2000) Aplanktonic zones in the Red Sea. Mar Micropal 40:277–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Garcîa M, Hernández-Molina FJ, Llave E, Stow DAV, Léon R, Fernández-Puga MC, Río V, Somoza L (2008) Contourite erosive features caused by the Mediterranean outflow water in the Gulf of Cadiz: quaternary tectonic and oceanographic implications. Mar Geol 257:24–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Garcia-Castellanos D, Estrada F, Jiménez-Munt I, Gorini C, Fernàndez M, Vergés J, De Vicente R (2009) Catastrophic flood of the Mediterranean after the Messinian salinity crisis. Nature 462:778–782CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gardner TW (1983) Experimental study of knickpoint migration and longitudinal profile evolution in cohesive homogenous material. Geol Soc Am Bull 94:664–672CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Garfunkel Z, Ginzburg A, Searle RC (1987) Fault pattern and mechanism of crustal separation along the axis of the Red Sea from side scan sonar (GLORIA) data. Ann Geophys 5B:187–200Google Scholar
  23. Gass IG (1970) The evolution of volcanism in the junction area of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Ethiopian Rift. Phil Trans Roy Soc Lond A267:369–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Griffin DL (1999) The late Miocene climate of northeast Africa: unravelling the signals in the sedimentary succession. J Geol Soc Lond 156:817–826CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hamilton EL, Bachman RT (1982) Sound velocity and related properties of marine sediments. J Acoust Soc Am 72:1891–1904CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hiscott RN, Aksu AE, Yaşar D, Kaminski MA, Mudie PJ, Kostylev VE, MacDonalda JC, Işler FI, Lord AR (2002) Deltas south of the Bosphorus Strait record persistent Black Sea outflow to the Marmara Sea since ~10 ka. Mar Geol 190:95–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hughes GW (2014) Micropalaeontology and palaeoenvironments of the Miocene Wadi Waqb carbonate of the northern Saudi Arabian Red Sea. GeoArabia 19:59–108Google Scholar
  28. Hughes GW, Abdine S, Girgis MH (1992) Miocene biofacies development and geological history of the Gulf of Suez. Egypt. Mar Petrol Geol 9:2–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ilicak M, Özgökmen TM, Peters H, Baumert HZ, Iskandarani M (2008) Performance of two-equation turbulence closures in three-dimensional simulations of the Red Sea overflow. Ocean Model 34:122–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Izzeldin AY (1987) Seismic, gravity and magnetic surveys in the central part of the Red Sea: their interpretation and implications for the structure and evolution of the Red Sea. Tectonophysics 143:269–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jarosz E, Murray SP, Inoue M (2005) Observations on the characteristics of tides in the Bab el Mandab Strait. J Geophys Res 110:paper C03015.
  32. Lambeck K, Purcell A, Flemming NC, Vita-Finzi C, Alsharekh AM, Bailey GN (2011) Sea level and shoreline reconstructions for the Red Sea: isostatic and tectonic considerations and implications for hominin migration out of Africa. Quat Sci Rev 30:3542–3574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Luján M, Crespo-Blanc A, Comas M (2010) Morphology and structure of the Camarinal Sill from high-resolution bathymetry: evidence of fault zones in the Gibraltar Strait. Geo-Mar Lett 31:163–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Maillard C, Soliman G (1986) Hydrography of the Red Sea and exchanges with the Indian Ocean in summer. Oceanol Acta 9:249–269Google Scholar
  35. Manheim FT, Dwight L, Belastock RA (1974) Porosity, density, grain density, and related physical properties of sediments from the Red Sea drill cores. In: Whitmarsh RB, Weser OE, Ross DA (eds) Initial reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, vol 23. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, pp 887–907Google Scholar
  36. McAdoo BG, Pratson LF, Orange DL (2000) Submarine landslide geomorphology, US continental slope. Mar Geol 169:103–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McClusky S, Reilinger R, Mahmoud S, Ben Sari D, Tealeb A (2003) GPS constraints on Africa (Nubia) and Arabia plate motions. Geophys J Int 155:126–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Miller JR (1991) The influence of bedrock geology on knickpoint development and channel-bed degradation along downcutting streams in south-central Indiana. J Geol 99:591–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Miller MC, Komar PD (1977) The development of sediment threshold curves for unusual environments (Mars) and for inadequately studied materials (foram sands). Sedimentology 24:709–721CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Miller MC, McCave IN, Komar PD (1977) Threshold of sediment motion under unidirectional currents. Sedimentology 24:507–528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Milliman JD, Ross DA, Ku T-L (1969) Precipitation and lithification of deep-sea carbonates in the Red Sea. J Sed Petrol 39:724–736Google Scholar
  42. Mitchell NC (2006) Morphologies of knickpoints in submarine canyons. Geol Soc Am Bull 118:589–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mitchell NC (2014) Bedrock erosion by sedimentary flows in submarine canyons. Geosphere 10.
  44. Mitchell NC (2015) Lineaments in gravity data of the Red Sea. In: Rasul NMA, Stewart ICF (eds) The Red Sea: the formation, morphology, oceanography and environment of a young ocean basin. Springer Earth System Sciences, Berlin, pp 123–133Google Scholar
  45. Mitchell NC, Park Y (2014) Nature of crust in the central Red Sea. Tectonophys 628:123–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mitchell NC, Huthnance JM, Schmitt T, Todd B (2012) Threshold of erosion of submarine bedrock landscapes by tidal currents. Earth Surf Proc Landf 38:627–639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mitchell NC, Ligi M, Rohling EJ (2015) Red Sea isolation history suggested by Plio-Pleistocene seismic reflection sequences. Earth Planet Sci Lett 430:387–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mitchell NC, Ligi M, Feldens P, Hübscher C (2017) Deformation of a young salt giant: Regional topography of the Red Sea Miocene evaporites. Basin Res 29:352–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Neumann AC, McGill DA (1962) Circulation of the Red Sea in early summer. Deep Sea Res 8:223–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Orszag-Sperber F, Harwood G, Kendall A, Purser BH (1998) Review of the evaporites of the Red Sea-Gulf of Suez rift. In: Purser BH, Bosence DWJ (eds) Sedimentation and tectonics of rift basins: Red Sea-Gulf of Aden. Chapman & Hall, London, pp 409–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Paphitis D, Collins MB, Nash LA, Wallbridge S (2002) Settling velocities and entrainment thresholds of biogenic sands (shell fragments) under unidirectional flow. Sedimentology 49:211–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Parsons DR, Peakall J, Aksu AE, Flood RD, Hiscott RN, Besiktepe S, Mouland D (2010) Gravity-driven flow in a submarine channel bend: direct field evidence of helical flow reversal. Geology 38:1063–1066CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Peters H, Johns WE (2006) Bottom layer turbulence in the Red Sea outflow plume. J Phys Ocean 36:1764–1785CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pratt LJ, Johns W, Murray SP, Katsumata K (1999) Hydraulic interpretation of direct velocity measurements in the Bab el Mandab. J Phys Ocean 29:2769–2784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Purser BH, Hötzl H (1988) The sedimentary evolution of the Red Sea rift: A comparison of the northwest (Egyptian) and northeast (Saudi Arabian) margins. Tectonophys 153:193–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Reilinger R, McClusky S, ArRajehi A (2015) Geodetic constraints on the geodynamic evolution of the Red Sea. In: Rasul NMA, Stewart ICF (eds) The Red Sea: the formation, morphology, oceanography and environment of a young ocean basin. Springer Earth System Sciences, Berlin, pp 135–150Google Scholar
  57. Richardson M, Arthur MA (1988) The Gulf of Suez—northern Red Sea Neogene rift: a quantitative basin analysis. Mar Petrol Geol 5:247–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Roeser HA (1975) A detailed magnetic survey of the southern Red Sea. Geol Jahrb 13:131–153Google Scholar
  59. Rohling EJ, Grant K, Bolshaw M, Roberts AP, Siddall M, Hemleben C, Kucera M (2009) Antarctic temperature and global sea level closely coupled over the past five glacial cycles. Nature Geosci 2:500–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rubin AM (1992) Dike-induced faulting and graben subsidence in volcanic rift zones. J Geophys Res 97:1839–1858CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Ryan WBF, Carbotte SM, Coplan JO, O’Hara S, Melkonian A, Arko R, Wiessel RA, Ferrini V, Goodwillie A, Nitsche F, Bonczkowski J, Zemsky R (2009) Global multi-resolution topography synthesis. Geochem Geophys Geosys 10:Paper Q03014CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sandwell DT, Smith WHF (1997) Marine gravity anomaly from Geosat and ERS-1 satellite altimetry. J Geophys Res 102:10039–10054CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sandwell D, Müller RD, Smith WHF, Garcia E, Francis R (2014) New global marine gravity model from CryoSat-2 and Jason-1 reveals buried tectonic structure. Science 346:65–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Seidl M, Dietrich WE (1992) The problem of channel erosion into bedrock. In: Schmidt KH, de Ploey J (eds) Functional geomorphology: landform analysis and models. Catena Supplement, vol 23, pp 101–124Google Scholar
  65. Siddall M, Rohling EJ, Almogi-Labin A, Hemleben C, Meischner D, Schmeizer I, Smeed DA (2003) Sea-level fluctuations during the last glacial cycle. Nature 423:853–858CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Siddall M, Smeed DA, Hemleben C, Rohling EJ, Schmeizer I, Peltier WR (2004) Understanding the Red Sea response to sea level. Earth Planet Sci Lett 225:421–434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Smeed DA (2004) Exchange through the Bab el Mandab. Deep-Sea Res II 51:455–474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Smith WHF, Sandwell DT (1997) Global sea floor topography from satellite altimetry and ship soundings. Science 277:1956–1962CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Smith WHF, Wessel P (1990) Gridding with continuous curvature splines in tension. Geophysics 55(3):293–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Snyder NP, Whipple KX, Tucker GE, Merritts DJ (2003) Importance of stochastic distribution of floods and erosion thresholds in the bedrock river incision problem. J Geophys Res 108:ETG 17-11–ETG 17-15.
  71. Sofianos SS, Johns EW (2003) An oceanic general circulation model (OGCM) investigation of the Red Sea circulation, 2. Three-dimensional circulation in the Red Sea. J Geophys Res.107:Paper 3066.
  72. Sofianos SS, Johns EW (2007) Observations of the summer Red Sea circulation. J Geophys Res 112:Paper C06025.
  73. Sofianos SS, Johns EW, Murray SP (2002) Heat and freshwater budgets in the Red Sea from direct observations at Bab el Mandeb. Deep-Sea Res II 49:1323–1340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Southard JB, Young RA, Hollister CD (1971) Experimental erosion of calcareous ooze. J Geophys Res 76:5903–5909CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Swartz DH, Arden DD (1960) Geologic history of the Red Sea area. Bull Am Assoc Petrol Geol 44:1621–1637Google Scholar
  76. Telford WM, Geldart LP, Sheriff RE, Keys DA (1976) Applied geophysics. Cambridge University Press, New York, p 860Google Scholar
  77. Webber NB (1971) Fluid mechanics for civil engineers. Chapman and Hall, New York, p 340Google Scholar
  78. Werner G, Lange K (1975) A bathymetric survey of the sill area between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Geologisches Jarbuch D 13:125–130Google Scholar
  79. Wessel P, Smith WHF (1991) Free software helps map and display data. EOS Trans Am Geophys Union 72:441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Whitmarsh RB, Weser OE, Ross DA (1974) Initial reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, 23B. U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.Department of PhysicsUniversity of AthensAthensGreece

Personalised recommendations