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A Modern View on the Red Sea Rift: Tectonics, Volcanism and Salt Blankets

  • Nico Augustin
  • Colin W. Devey
  • Froukje M. van der Zwan
Chapter

Abstract

Continental rifting and ocean basin formation can be observed at the present day in the Red Sea, which is used as the modern analogue for the formation of mid-ocean ridges. Competing theories for how spreading begins—either by quasi-instantaneous formation of a whole spreading segment or by initiation of spreading at multiple discrete “nodes” separated by thinned continental lithosphere—have been put forward based, until recently, on the observations that many seafloor features and geophysical anomalies (gravity, magnetics) along the axis of the Red Sea appeared anomalous compared to ancient and modern examples of ocean basins in other parts of the world. The latest research shows, however, that most of the differences between the Red Sea Rift (RSR) and other (ultra)slow-spreading mid-ocean ridges can be related to its relatively young age and the presence and movement of giant submarine salt flows that blanket large portions of the rift valley. In addition, the geophysical data that was previously used to support the presence of continental crust between the axial basins with outcropping oceanic crust (formerly named “spreading nodes”) can be equally well explained by processes related to the sedimentary blanketing and hydrothermal alteration. The observed spreading nodes are not separated from one another by tectonic boundaries but rather represent “windows” onto a continuous spreading axis which is locally inundated and masked by massive slumping of sediments or evaporites from the rift flanks. Volcanic and tectonic morphologies are comparable to those observed along slow and ultra-slow spreading ridges elsewhere and regional systematics of volcanic occurrences are related to variations in volcanic activity and mantle heat flow. Melt-salt interaction due to salt flows, that locally cover the active spreading segments, and the absence of large detachment faults as a result of the nearby Afar plume are unique features of the RSR. The differences and anomalies seen in the Red Sea still may be applicable to all young oceanic rifts, associated with plumes and/or evaporites, which makes the Red Sea a unique but highly relevant type example for the initiation of slow rifting and seafloor spreading and one of the most interesting targets for future ocean research.

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the captains, crews and scientific parties of the expeditions with R/V Poseidon P408 and R/V Pelagia 64PE350/351 as well as the student helpers at GEOMAR, Kiel, who helped in processing the huge amount of data. We kindly thank Marco Ligi for providing the Urania RS05 bathymetry grid. Saudi Geological Survey is thanked for inviting us to the Red Sea Book Workshop. The Jeddah Transect Project between King Abdulaziz University and Helmholtz-Centre for Ocean Research GEOMAR was funded by King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, under grant no. T-065/430.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

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

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