The ocean-continent transition in the Western Central Red Sea

Neil C. Mitchell, Jonas Preine, Oke I. Okwokwo, A. Y. Izzeldin, Nico Augustin, Ian C.F. Stewart

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The Red Sea is an important example of a continental rift transitioning slowly to an oceanic basin. However, structures that can inform us of how that transition occurred have been poorly reported because deep seismic reflection data capable of imaging basement under the rift sediments are generally lacking publicly. Three lines of multichannel seismic reflection data have recently been published revealing structures on the Nubian side of the central part of the basin. In this study, we reassess these data in the light of recent studies of the central Red Sea. Over continental crust, the data reveal reflection sequences likely due to strata at or near the base of the evaporites, in two cases with varied dips suggesting the presence of syn-rift growth stratigraphy. Almost all of those reflections dip downwards towards the rift axis, not away as would be expected from tilted fault blocks of bookshelf faulting types. That observation, and low relief of basement, confirm inferences made earlier based on gravity anomalies that this part of the Red Sea lacks large-relief fault escarpments and is most likely a syn-rift sag basin. In the transition to oceanic crust, an abnormally broad magnetic anomaly of estimated Chron 5 age is found not to be associated with structures such as sills, so it likely arises from deeper sources. One of the seismic lines traverses a ridge in Bouguer gravity anomalies that runs across the axis. This feature has previously been interpreted as a volcanic ridge similar to those observed at other ultra-slow spreading ridges. The seismic data reveal diffuse basement reflections and confirm that the record immediately above basement lacks reflections typical of sedimentary strata. Both observations are consistent with the presence of oceanic crust. Modelling of gravity anomalies suggests the ridge is likely underlain by igneous intrusive rocks displacing mantle rocks, as expected for a volcanic ridge. The seismic data, combined with recently updated multibeam and high-resolution sparker seismic results, further suggest how the evaporite movements have been modulated by basement topography. These results add to our knowledge of the evaporite movements and continent-ocean transition structures in the central Red Sea.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105093
JournalJournal of African Earth Sciences
Early online date10 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023


  • Halokinetics
  • Ocean-continent boundary
  • Red sea rift
  • Salt tectonics
  • Syn-rift sag basin
  • Syn-rift stratigraphy


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