Physical and Chemical Properties of Seawater in the Gulf of Aqaba and Red Sea

  • Riyad ManasrahEmail author
  • Ahmad Abu-Hilal
  • Mohammad Rasheed
Part of the Springer Oceanography book series (SPRINGEROCEAN)


The Gulf of Aqaba is located in the sub-tropical arid zone between 28o–29o30′N and 34o30′–35oE. It is a semi-enclosed basin that extends over a length of 180 km with a width between 5 and 25 km (average of 16 km). The deepest point in the Gulf reaches 1825 m with an average depth of 800 m. The Gulf is connected to the Red Sea by the Strait of Tiran, which has a sill depth of about 265 m. The Gulf exhibits a seasonal cycle of stratification in spring, maintenance of a shallow thermocline in summer, and subsequent deepening of the thermocline to produce deep mixed layers in winter. Much of the seasonal stratification variability is determined by exchanges with the rest of the Red Sea. Nonetheless, inter-annual variability in wintertime temperatures appears to set the depth of maximum mixing. Because of being generally warm (>21 ºC), and subject to dry winds much of the year, the Gulf is a site of high evaporation rates, estimated at 0.5–1.0 cm/day, with recent estimated values lower than earlier ones. Given a surface area of the Gulf of about 1.7 × 109 m2, this implies a net inflow to the Gulf of about 54 m3s−1. Because the densities of the Gulf are different from the rest of the Red Sea, there are strong density-driven flows. These exchange flows through the Strait of Tiran are substantially larger than the net flows through the Straits. About 3 × 104 m3s−1 enters the Gulf near the surface, and leaves at depth through the Strait. The exchange varies annually with a net annual mean of 1.8 × 104 m3s−1. Surface water temperature may approach 28 ºC during summer months and fall to just above 20 ºC in winter. The generally weak currents (10 cm s−1) in the northern Gulf of Aqaba are largely driven by the prevailing down-Gulf winds and by the semi-diurnal internal tides generated in the Strait of Tiran. The annual meteorological measurements demonstrate that the wind speed fluctuates within a range of 0–12 ms−1 (mean 4.5 ± 2.4 ms−1). Moreover, a harmonic change of wind speed appears during summer causing a diurnal cycle that is represented by strong winds during daytime and relatively weaker winds during the night. Meanwhile, northerly winds (NNW-NNE) dominate over the study area and represent about 85% of total measurements. Mean values of air temperature range between 32.2 ± 3.16 °C in summer and 17.6 ± 3.46 °C in winter. The minimum humidity recorded in summer is 13% compared to a maximum of 83% in winter. The maximum sea level range, with reference to Global Mean Sea Level (MSL), during the year 2013 was 154.3 cm. The highest value was 101.7 cm observed on December 12, and the lowest value was −52.6 cm recorded in April 23. The pH at coastal and offshore waters of the Jordanian Gulf of Aqaba fluctuates around 8.3 with very minor temporal and spatial variations. This is typical for all coral reef waters because these waters are always saturated with calcium carbonate, which acts as a buffer and resists change in the pH. Inorganic nutrients (ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, phosphate and silicate) are essential for marine phytoplankton productivity and growth. Higher concentrations of nutrients and chlorophyll a concentrations occur during winter that are attributed to deep water vertical mixing during winter. Cross-shore mixing (from shallow to offshore waters) due to density currents (gravity currents) has been recently documented. This process drives coastal water down slope offshore when it gets cooler at night. The increased nutrient concentrations in the euphotic zone enhance primary productivity, resulting in higher phytoplankton abundance and increased chlorophyll a concentrations. Water column stratification and high irradiance during summer result in a depletion of the inorganic nutrients in the upper waters by enhanced primary productivity at the subsurface level (50–75 m). Ammonium concentration fluctuates irregularly around 0.4 μM with a tendency to higher concentrations during the winter months (January to March). Nitrate and nitrite concentrations during the last five years showed a regular shift from a summer low (0.10 and 0.01 µM) to relatively high early winter values (0.6 and 0.25 µM). Phosphate concentrations are generally low during summer (~0.02 µM) and high during winter (~0.10 µM). Silicate concentrations show the same trend with 1.0 µM during summer and ~2.0 µM in the winter. Dissolved oxygen concentrations at the Gulf of Aqaba show a regular pattern, inversely proportional to that of temperature, with a range of 6.4 to 7.4 mgl−1, indicating that the effects of the other ecosystem variables are masked by temperature. Waters of the Gulf of Aqaba are very well balanced in terms of respiration and photosynthesis and well ventilated due to the annual deep mixing with a saturation of 100%.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Riyad Manasrah
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ahmad Abu-Hilal
    • 2
  • Mohammad Rasheed
    • 3
  1. 1.Faculty of Marine SciencesThe University of JordanAqabaJordan
  2. 2.Faculty of ScienceYarmouk UniversityIrbidJordan
  3. 3.Chemistry DepartmentThe University of JordanAmmanJordan

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