Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The Red Sea - An Ocean Like All Others, After All

07.05.2014

GEOMAR researchers specify models for the birth of the youngest world ocean

Actually, the Red Sea is an ideal study object for marine geologists. There they can observe the formation of an ocean in its early phase. However, the Red Sea seemed to go through a different birthing process than the other oceans.


Bathymetry of a 70-kilometer long section of the rift zone in the Red Sea. In the lower right is the same section in the previous resolution. Graphics: N. Augustin, GEOMAR

Now, Scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah were able to show that salt glaciers have distorted the previous models. The study was just published in the international journal "Earth and Planetary Science Letters".

Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean, with the land masses of the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia in between – that’s how we know our earth. From a geologist's point of view, however, this is only a snapshot. Over the course of the earth’s history, many different continents have formed and split again. In between oceans were created, new seafloor was formed and disappeared again: Plate tectonics is the generic term for these processes.

The Red Sea, where currently the Arabian Peninsula separates from Africa, is one of the few places on earth where the splitting of a continent and the emergence of the ocean can be observed. During a three-year joint project, the Jeddah Transect Project (JTP), researchers at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, have taken a close look at this crack in the earth's crust by means of seabed mapping, sampling and magnetic modeling.

"The findings have shed new light on the early stages of oceanic basins, and they specifically change the school of thought on the Red Sea," says Dr. Nico Augustin from GEOMAR, lead author of the study. It has now been published in the scientific journal "Earth and Planetary Science Letters".

It is, and was, undisputed that a continent is stretched and thinned out by volcanic activity before it ruptures and a new ocean basin is formed. The rifting occurs where the greatest stretching takes place. However, the detailed processes during the break-up are debated in research. On the one hand, one needs to better understand the dynamics of our home planet.

"On the other hand, most marine oil and gas resources are located near such former fracture zones. This research can therefore also have economic and political implications," says Professor Colin Devey (GEOMAR), co-author of the study.

Until now, conventional knowledge said that a continent is breaking apart more or less simultaneously along an entire line, and the ocean basin is formed all at once. The Red Sea, however, did not fit into this picture. Here, a model was favored with several smaller fracture zones, lined up one after the other, that would unite gradually, which in turn would lead to a relatively slow emergence of the ocean during a long transition phase.

"Our studies show that the Red Sea is not an exception but that it takes its place in line with the other ocean basins," says Augustin. The previous picture we had of the ocean floor in the Red Sea was simply corrupted by salt glaciers. "The volcanic rocks we recovered are similar to those from other normal mid-ocean ridges," says co-author Froukje van der Zwan, working on her PhD as part of the JTP.

During the early formation stages of the Red Sea, the area was covered by a very shallow sea that dried up repeatedly. This created thick salt deposits that later on broke apart with the continental crust. Over geologic time periods, salt shows tar-like behavior and begins to flow.

"Our new high-resolution seabed maps and magnetic modeling show that the kilometer-thick salt deposits, after the break-up of the Arabian Plate from Africa, flowed like glaciers toward the newly created trench and thus over the oceanic crust due to gravity,” says Augustin. Since these submarine salt glaciers do not cover the rifting zone uniformly over the entire length, the impression of several small fracture zones was created.

The consequences of this discovery are profound: For one, there really seems to be only one single mechanism worldwide for the dispersal of a continent. And secondly, is not yet known how much ocean crust is covered by salt. This questions the previous dating of the opening of the Red Sea.

In addition, the volcanically active trench rift zone of the Red Sea, surrounded by salt glaciers, is host of a giant sink filled with a very hot and very salty solution. "Since the sediment in the salt solution is rich in metals, this so-called Atlantis II Deep is also of economic interest," says co-author Devey. It is quite conceivable that over the course of the earth’s history similar deposits associated with volcanism and salt deposits were created during the opening phase of other oceans. "Thus, our studies help to clarify older research questions. But they also provide starting points for new investigations in all of the oceans," says Augustin.


Original publication:
Augustin, N., C. W. Devey, F. M. van der Zwan, Peter Feldens, M. Tominaga, R. A. Bantan, T. Kwasnitschka (2014): The rifting to spreading transition in the Red Sea. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 395, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2014.03.047 

High resolution images:

Bathymetry of a 70-kilometer long section of the rift zone in the Red Sea. In the lower right is the same section in the previous resolution. Graphics: N. Augustin, GEOMAR

The Dutch research vessel PELAGIA was used in the Red Sea during the Jeddah Transect Project, generating a survey of the rift zone with unprecedented accuracy. Photo: F. van der Zwan, GEOMAR

Schematic representation of the break-up of the Red Sea. In some places, salt glaciers pushed across the fault line and cover parts of the continuous rift zone, even today. Graphics: N. Augustin, GEOMAR 

Contact:
Dr. Nico Augustin (GEOMAR, RD4-Magmatic and Hydrothermal Systems), naugustin(at)geomar.de  
Jan Steffen (GEOMAR, Communication & Media), Tel.: + 49 431 600-2811, jsteffen(at)geomar.de   

Jan Steffen | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.geomar.de

Further reports about: Earth Earth's crust GEOMAR Graphics Helmholtz Ocean Planetary Red Sea oceans plate tectonics volcanic activity

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Early organic carbon got deep burial in mantle
25.04.2017 | Rice University

nachricht New atlas provides highest-resolution imagery of the Polar Regions seafloor
25.04.2017 | British Antarctic Survey

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Early organic carbon got deep burial in mantle

25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

A room with a view - or how cultural differences matter in room size perception

25.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Warm winds: New insight into what weakens Antarctic ice shelves

25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>