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 Researchers find higher than expected carbon emissions from inland waterways
25.05.2016 | Washington State University

nachricht Rutgers scientists help create world's largest coral gene database
24.05.2016 | Rutgers University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Computational high-throughput screening finds hard magnets containing less rare earth elements

Permanent magnets are very important for technologies of the future like electromobility and renewable energy, and rare earth elements (REE) are necessary for their manufacture. The Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg, Germany, has now succeeded in identifying promising approaches and materials for new permanent magnets through use of an in-house simulation process based on high-throughput screening (HTS). The team was able to improve magnetic properties this way and at the same time replaced REE with elements that are less expensive and readily available. The results were published in the online technical journal “Scientific Reports”.

The starting point for IWM researchers Wolfgang Körner, Georg Krugel, and Christian Elsässer was a neodymium-iron-nitrogen compound based on a type of...

Im Focus: Atomic precision: technologies for the next-but-one generation of microchips

In the Beyond EUV project, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen and for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena are developing key technologies for the manufacture of a new generation of microchips using EUV radiation at a wavelength of 6.7 nm. The resulting structures are barely thicker than single atoms, and they make it possible to produce extremely integrated circuits for such items as wearables or mind-controlled prosthetic limbs.

In 1965 Gordon Moore formulated the law that came to be named after him, which states that the complexity of integrated circuits doubles every one to two...

Im Focus: Researchers demonstrate size quantization of Dirac fermions in graphene

Characterization of high-quality material reveals important details relevant to next generation nanoelectronic devices

Quantum mechanics is the field of physics governing the behavior of things on atomic scales, where things work very differently from our everyday world.

Im Focus: Graphene: A quantum of current

When current comes in discrete packages: Viennese scientists unravel the quantum properties of the carbon material graphene

In 2010 the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for the discovery of the exceptional material graphene, which consists of a single layer of carbon atoms...

Im Focus: Transparent - Flexible - Printable: Key technologies for tomorrow’s displays

The trend-forward world of display technology relies on innovative materials and novel approaches to steadily advance the visual experience, for example through higher pixel densities, better contrast, larger formats or user-friendler design. Fraunhofer ISC’s newly developed materials for optics and electronics now broaden the application potential of next generation displays. Learn about lower cost-effective wet-chemical printing procedures and the new materials at the Fraunhofer ISC booth # 1021 in North Hall D during the SID International Symposium on Information Display held from 22 to 27 May 2016 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

Economical processing

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Networking 4.0: International Laser Technology Congress AKL’16 Shows New Ways of Cooperations

24.05.2016 | Event News

Challenges of rural labor markets

20.05.2016 | Event News

International expert meeting “Health Business Connect” in France

19.05.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

LZH shows the potential of the laser for industrial manufacturing at the LASYS 2016

25.05.2016 | Trade Fair News

Great apes communicate cooperatively

25.05.2016 | Life Sciences

Thermo-Optical Measuring method (TOM) could save several million tons of CO2 in coal-fired plants

25.05.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>