Northern Red Sea: Nucleation of an oceanic spreading center within a continental rift

Cochran, James R.

The northern Red Sea is an amagmatic continental rift in which an oceanic spreading center is beginning to develop. A new compilation of marine geophysical data permits delineation of the structure of the northern Red Sea and of the manner in which the transition from continental to oceanic extension is occurring in this rift. The margins of the northern Red Sea are formed by large, apparently active faults on the seaward edge of the narrow continental shelves. The morphology of the main trough is a series of terraces stepping down to an axial depression. The terraces are a subdued expression of the basement structure, which consists of a series of large rotated fault blocks. The axial depression is an often fault-bounded axis of deep water that extends south from the Suez triple junction. The rift is segmented along-strike by through-going accommodation zones spaced at 40–60 km intervals along the rift. In the main trough, accommodation zones truncate or offset rift-parallel bathymetric and gravity features. The axial depression consists of a series of discrete depressions offset from each other and separated by slightly shallower areas corresponding to accommodation zones. Within each segment, the axial depression deepens away from the accommodation zones toward a small deep, a few kilometers across and a few hundred meters deeper than the surrounding seafloor. A pair of small volcanoes is perched on top of the scarps bounding the axial depression on either side of the deep within each segment. The volcanoes are all normally magnetized and interpreted as very young. The crust is uniformly thin (5–8.5 km) throughout the main trough, implying extension evenly spread across the rift through much of its development. As extension recently became concentrated at the axis, melt began to be generated and is focused to a location within the segment where it ascends along faults bounding the axial depression to form the pair of volcanoes flanking the axis. A volcano is also found on the floor of the axial depression in one segment. This isolated volcano appears to be the first step in the development of the seafloor spreading cells that are observed in the central Red Sea. The individual cells then grow and coalesce to become a continuous spreading axis.

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Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Marine Geology and Geophysics
Published Here
June 25, 2019