Term Paper: Spreading of Red Sea Floor Over the Geological Time

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Red Sea Spreading Seafloor

The spreading of the seafloor under the Red Sea offers researchers a chance to study several important areas of science and apply what is learned to a better understanding of earth, earth's history, and perhaps other planets in the Solar System such as Mars. This paper reviews and examines existing science related to the tectonic plates (African and Arabian plates) beneath the Red Sea, the explanation for their movement apart and the dynamics of the hydrothermal activities that are part of the plate spreading itself. The Red Sea is of particular interest to scientists and This paper provides thorough reviews of the research conducted to date and why that research is of great value to science and to an understanding of how the Earth was formed.

INTRODUCTION:

The sea floor beneath the Red Sea is of great interest to geologists, oceanographers, seismologists and other scientists mainly because of the fact that the tectonic plates - that are the reason the Red Sea was formed in the first place - and are pulling apart ("separating") slowly but surely over geologic time. This dynamic is of great interest to the world of science in part because research into the formation of the oceans is important; what happens in one area of the world where plates are separating has vital implications for other areas of the world with similar geologic dynamics. Also, in an active tectonic region there is always the possibility of large earthquakes that could be generated within the tectonic region (and also the likelihood of a tsunami resulting from a large temblor. And moreover, the Red Sea is important to study because the seas and oceans are "inextricably interconnected" (www.ngsednet.org.oceans);theseas and oceans are sometimes seen as "indestructible" but they are not, and the more research that goes into the present day - and historical - issues associated with seas and oceans, the wiser the decisions mankind will be able to make through the process.

RED SEA GEOLOGIC EVOLUTION: ROBERT C. COLEMAN'S BOOK:

Author Robert C. Coleman (Geologic Evolution of the Red Sea) writes that hot brine pools were discovered on the seafloor of the Red Sea in 1966, which excited scientists. At that time the discovery of hot brine pools served as a "catalyst" in the sense of stimulating more collaborative research studies (Coleman p. 6); the evolving understanding of plate tectonics received a great boost when the Research Vessel (R/V) Glomar Challenger went into the Red Sea in 1972 and drilled into the seafloor at six sites around the "axial rift" (the separating tectonic plates under the Red Sea). The conformation soon followed that indeed, Coleman explains on page 6 of his book, the axial trough was "an active spreading center," which in fact was producing the "hot heavy metal brines." Still that drilling by the crew of the Glomar Challenger did not go deep enough to penetrate the "thick evaporite sequence along the edge of the axial trough" and hence, the nature of what lay beneath remained "enigmatic."

Among the "vexing problems" that has puzzled scientists trying to understand the Red Sea dynamics has been "trying to characterize the crust underlying the marginal trough and coastal plain" (Coleman, 7). In 1979 the U.S. Geological Survey and the Saudi Arabian Directorate General of Minerals conducted a research project - a "deep seismic refraction profile" - across western Saudi Arabia and well into the southeastern Red Sea. That research was discussed in a workshop involving some 46 seismologists from around the world; all 46 of these scientists had been given data from the USGS and Saudi Arabian research ahead of time. There were a variety of interpretations of this data, as might be expected, but the consensus among the scientists was that there was great concern by the fact that the "continental crust" (on land in Saudi Arabia) was 48 km deep while the oceanic crust dropped to just 17 km (Coleman, 7).

From that point on, the Red Sea has been considered (designated) a "key environment" because of its "great scientific and ecological importance," Coleman explains.

Some facts about the Red Sea: the Red Sea is an "elongate depression" that is more than 200 kilometers long; in the north, the shorelines are just 180 kilometers apart, while in the south of the Red Sea the shorelines - while much more irregular - are as far apart as 350 kilometers. There are volcanic centers within the axial zone, and the axial zone is surrounded by "fault terraces" that are nearly vertical and the walls rise up to 800 meters high from the bottom of the axial zone. At the time of the publishing of this book (1993) the rift was about four to five kilometers wide at about 2,000 meters deep into the Red Sea, Coleman explains (p. 18).

Large open fissures appear in clusters along the extrusive zone," and those clusters break up the "silt-lava sequences" and at times "transect" the ancient volcanoes. The fact that the sediments are not very deep on the volcanic features of the axial zone is clear evidence, Coleman writes, of its "youthfulness" in geologic terms. The "most spectacular manifestation of volcanism" is found along the axial ranges that have been discussed earlier in this paper. But Coleman asserts that eruptions in the Late Oligocene period - continuing "sporadically" up to the Late Miocene epoch - formed an "apron" that was 40 kilometers wide and extended more than 100 kilometers along the axis.

Meantime the southern portion of the Red Sea reveals "many sub-parallel faults" which are very similar, Coleman explains (p. 89), to mid-ocean patterns of tectonic faulting and spreading. The Red Sea spreading centers were fairly straight zones roughly 30 to 50 kilometers long and 3 to 20 kilometers across. In the northern portion of the Red Sea seafloor though is a place where dramatically irregular faulting makes the spreading center very different from the trends in the south. The faults along the spreading in the north are marked by zigzagging; the lack of "obvious transform faults," the author goes on, is "puzzling"; but it also reveals to scientists that the Red Sea has a "diachronous history of spreading" (Coleman, 89). Diachronous means there are various and widely differing ages of rock in the same zone.

Although this paper has alluded to the Red Sea as a place where two tectonic plates are slowly being pushed apart by the upward surge of hot magma, Coleman, and other scholars, refer to the Red Sea as having a "triple junction" - the African (Nubian) and Arabian tectonic plates are interacting with the Gulf of Aden oceanic spreading centers. The Gulf of Aden oceanic spreading center enters the gulf of Tadjura, and meets with the north-moving East African rift system, according to Coleman.

On page 123 author Coleman points to the belief that in geologic reality, four, not three, rigid plates are interacting dynamically in the Red Sea region; as discussed, the Arabian plate and the African (Nubian) plate are part of the picture; and Coleman adds to that stew the Sinai and Somalia plates. There is certainly rifting and spreading under the Red Sea, but Coleman writes in his Epilogue (p. 151-152) that there was - at the time his book was published - "No geologic evidence" that supports the existence of a "large dome centered" under the Red Sea Basin during the initial stages of rifting. In other words, there is no known "initial hot spot" where a volcano blasted molten rock and ash up through the rift. What he can say with certainty though is that the Red Sea "will continue to grow" through a combination of volcanic activity and faulting (the volcanic activity he refers to is the upward pushing of magma from deep in the earth's core, not a blast of volcanic ash exploding up from the seafloor).

However, it is "reasonable" Coleman posits, to assume there will be "future seismic and volcanic events" under the Red Sea, which makes the Red Sea "a unique ecosystem" and offers an "unparalleled" opportunity for continuing research of oceanic spreading and tectonic plate movement. The author warns against attempts by nations or corporations to exploit the Red Sea for "heavy metal deposits" or "petroleum" within the axial trough - prior to additional research.

SPREADING SEAFLOOR DYNAMICS BENEATH the OCEANS & SEAS

Prior to delving into the specifics relative to the Red Sea seafloor, a review of the dynamics of seafloor spreading is worthy and timely. There is an impressive volume of information with reference to the spreading of a seafloors and the movement of tectonic plates that respond by spreading when pushed by magma. The outermost layer of earth, earth's crust that is also alluded to as the upper mantle, is technically called the lithosphere.

Rosanna L. Hamilton, a professional scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory ("The Lithosphere & Plate Tectonics") (www.solarviews.com) explainsfirst of all that there are eight large tectonic plates (African, Antarctic, Eurasian, Indian-Australian, Nazca, North American,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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