Halokinetics and other features of GLORIA long-range sidescan sonar data from the Red Sea

Neil Mitchell, Nico Augustin

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    The Red Sea is an unusual example of a rift basin that transitioned from its evaporitic stage to fully open-ocean conditions at the end of the Miocene (∼5.3 Ma), much more recently than older Mesozoic margins around the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The patterns of halokinetic deformation occurring in the Red Sea are potentially of interest for understanding more generally how evaporite deposits deform during this early stage. Relevant to this issue, a line of reconnaissance sidescan sonar data (GLORIA) collected along the Red Sea in 1979 is re-evaluated here. We first interpret the data with the aid of newly compiled bathymetry from multibeam sonars in the central and southern Red Sea. Features in the acoustic backscatter data are associated with ridges, valleys and rounded flow fronts produced by halokinetic deformation. Some areas of higher acoustic backscattering from the evaporites are suggested to relate to roughness produced by deformation of the evaporite surface. Within the volcanic (oceanic) axial valleys, areas of differing high and low backscattering suggest varied sediment cover and/or carbonate encrustations. With the benefit of the above experience, we then interpreted data from the northern Red Sea, where there are fewer multibeam data available. Rounded fronts of halokinetic deformation are present in the Zabargad Fracture Zone, a broad, shallow valley crossing the Red Sea obliquely. The presence of halokinetic deformation here is evidence that subsidence has occurred along the fracture zone. Elsewhere in the northern Red Sea, the GLORIA data reveal folds in the evaporite surface, suggesting local areas of convergence, like those implied by multibeam data from inter-trough zones further south. Some linear features are observed, many of which are likely to be ridges overlying salt walls. Interestingly, several such features are oriented along an accommodation zone that is oriented parallel to the plate spreading direction. Several rounded, corrugated features are interpreted as possible evaporite flow fronts. Overall, the impression from the data is of a strongly mobile seabed in the Red Sea because of halokinetic deformation, involving both vertical and horizontal movements. However, salt walls appear more common than in the central and southern axial Red Sea, where horizontal movements instead tend to dominate.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)724-738
    JournalMarine and Petroleum Geology
    Early online date18 Sept 2017
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


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    • Geomorphology

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

      Project: Research

    • 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

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