Deformation of a young salt giant: regional topography of the Red Sea Miocene evaporites

Neil Mitchell, M Ligi, P Feldens, C Hübscher

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    The deformational behaviour of ‘salt giants’ during and shortly after their deposition is difficult to decipher in ocean margin settings where the original evaporites have been deeply buried and strongly mobilized. Here, we examine seismic reflection data from the Red Sea, where evaporites deposited until the end of the Miocene (~5.3 Ma), are generally covered by only 200–300 m of low-density sediments and where the presence of an axial spreading centre allows us to observe how they have responded to a varied configuration of underlying basement. The regional morphology of the S-reflection, representing the evaporite surface, is mapped out from seismic data from 13 cruises. The S-reflection is locally rugged and commonly angular. It is either underlain by layered reflectivity, suggestive of layered evaporite beds, or by more transparent seismic character, suggestive of massive halite. On average, the depth of the reflection on the flanks of the axial rift systematically declines from 700 to 1100 m below sea level (mbsl) going northwards from 16 to 23°N. In the central Red Sea, the S-reflection has 100- to 200-m-deep depressions, extending towards the coasts in places. In the southern Red Sea, the S-reflection forms a surface at 300–800 mbsl that appears less disrupted. We suggest that the evaporites originally had a flat, horizontal surface at the end of the Miocene and have subsequently been distorted by isostatic effects and axial rifting, which in turn promoted evaporite flowage. Off-axis evaporite depressions correspond with flows identified with multibeam sonar. Furthermore, across-rift lows in Bouguer gravity anomalies represent valleys in the underlying basement. The off-axis evaporite depressions overlie those valleys, as would be expected if halokinetic movements were greatest where the evaporites are locally thick, leading to deflation of the evaporite surface. The thickness of post-Miocene sediment, also mapped out as part of this procedure, confirms the generally pelagic nature of this interval and increases on average from ~250 to 300 m from the central to the southern Red Sea, mimicking the variation in pelagic productivity observed in the present water column.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)352-369
    JournalBasin Research
    Early online date4 Sep 2015
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2017


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    • Geophysics

      Mitchell, N., Mecklenburgh, J., Rutter, E., Huuse, M., Finch, E., Chandler, M., Chang, Y., Zhao, Z., Shi, W., Bashir, Y., Ardo, B., Newton, A., Cox, D., Lloyd, C., Putuhena, H., Sarkar, A., Nnorom, S., Owolabi, O., Malah, M., Soutter, E., Dunlevy, E., Balila, A., Alhammami, S., Olobayo, O., Serié, C., Chenrai, P., Sharples, A., Le, A., Lamb, R., Harding, R., Gulmammadov, R., Calves, G., Bureau, D. & Muniz Pichel, L.

      Project: Research

    • Geomorphology

      Mitchell, N., Jones, M., Covey-Crump, S., Jerrett, R., Huuse, M., Finch, E., Bahia, R., Zhao, Z. & Chang, Y.

      Project: Research

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