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ISSN 00168521, Geotectonics, 2010, Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 271282. Pleiades Publishing, Inc., 2010.

Original Russian Text G.A.F. dAlmeida, 2010, published in Geotektonika, 2010, Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 7790.

Structural Evolution History of the Red Sea Rift

G. A. F. dAlmeida
Russian State Geological Prospecting University, 23 ul. MiklukhoMaklaya, Moscow, 117997 Russia
Received May 20, 2008

AbstractThe Red Sea Rift has been an object of comprehensive studies by several generations of geologists
and geophysicists. Many publications and openfile reports provide insights into the geological history of this
rift. Paleogene and Cretaceous rocks, which are considered to be prerift, are locally exposed at the margins
of the Red Sea Rift. At the same time, some evidence indicates that at least some of these rocks are related to
the early stage of the evolution of the Red Sea Rift. The available geological data suggest that the Red Sea
region started its active evolution in the Cretaceous. As follows from lithostratigraphic data, the Cretaceous
Paleogene trough that predated the OligoceneQuaternary rift covered this region completely or partially.
The preOligocene magmatism and geological evidence show that the CretaceousPaleogene trough was of
the rift type. The CretaceousEocene and OligoceneQuaternary phases of rifting were separated by an
epoch of uplifting and denudation documented by the erosion surface and unconformity.
DOI: 10.1134/S0016852110030052

INTRODUCTION Cretaceous rocks are exposed in its marginal zone and

penetrated by wells [11, 13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 29, 30];
The Red Sea Rift is a giant grabenlike depression their implications for the geological evolution of the
separated from asymmetric uplifted blocks of the Late rift are so far poorly understood.
Precambrian PanAfrican basement by faults and
related marginal scarps [18, 33]. The rift extends for Cretaceous rocks are known from several localities
about 1900 km having a width of 150300 km and at the margin of the rift. The oldest rocks reported
consists of the Main Trough, including the shelf of the from the Main Trough are inequigranular continental
Red Sea and coastal plains of Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, sandstone and shale (partly red beds) of the Malha
Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, and the deepwater Axial Formation up to 800 m thick that occurs at the western
Trough (Fig. 1). The Main Trough is underlain by the flank in the coastal Safaga and Quseir districts of Egypt
ancient continental crust and consists of two sepa (Figs. 1, 2). Their BarremianAptian age is deter
rated, almost symmetrical parts of the same basin up mined from correlation with the sections near the Gulf
to 56 km deep. The separated parts of this basin are of Suez [25, 30]. Similar and coeval sedimentary rocks
filled largely with Neogene sediments. occur beyond the Red Sea Rift on the opposite slopes
The Axial Trough is about 50 km wide and charac of the ArabianNubian Shield [23, 29]. In particular,
terized by oceanic crust formed in the Pliocene and these are the fluvial and deltaic sandstone of the
Quaternary between 15 and 24 N [2, 3, 6, 35]. Linear Nubian facies up to 100 m thick locally exposed along
magnetic anomalies, discontinuous and of low ampli the Sudanese coast of the Red Sea; the Neocomian
tude in the Main Trough and clearly expressed in the Barremian continental sedimentary rocks of the Amba
Axial Trough, are inherent to the Red Sea Rift System. Aradam Formation that crop out along the coast; and
The origin of these anomalies remains unclear because the AptianAlbian continental sedimentary rocks of
they are localized not only in the Axial Trough with the Tawilla Formation traced along the Saudi coast of
oceanic crust but also in the epicontinental shelf zone the Red Sea.
of the Main Trough. Some geologists and geophysi The Upper Cretaceous strata are more abundant
cists, e.g., Girdler [20, 21], have concluded that the along the margin of the Red Sea Rift. In the Quseir
oceanic crust also exists beneath the shelf zone. Some district, the following rocks crop out (from bottom to
important structural features of the Red Sea consid top): the Cenomanianlower Senonian shale with
ered in this paper remain unascertained and have not limestone interbeds of the Wata and Raha formations
yet been discussed in the literature to the right degree. (up to 1070 m); the upper ConiacianMaastrichtian
limestone, marlstone, and shale of the Duwi and Mat
ulla formations (up to 630 m); and the Cretaceous
PRENEOGENE ROCKS Paleocene limestone (100150 m).
Although the Main Trough of the Red Sea Rift is These sequences are characterized by variable
filled with Neogene sediments, older Cenozoic and thickness and facies, local unconformities, and scour


32 36 40 44

Maqna 28

Safaga Aznam

Zabargad Is. Saudi Arabia

Egypt Medina

Abu Shagara1 Djidda

Maghersum1 20

Port Sudan Suakin1

Tokar delta

Sudan Mansiyah1
1 W1
2 16
4 Massawa
8 Yemen
0 100 200 km
9 Afar
36 40 44

Fig. 1. Schematic geological map of the Red Sea region. (14) Sedimentary rocks: (1) Quaternary, (2) Cenozoic, (3) Mesozoic,
(4) Paleozoic; (5) Precambrian basement; (6) Miocene volcanic rocks; (7) scarp; (8) faults and dikes; (9) well.

GEOTECTONICS Vol. 44 No. 3 2010


KK851 Wadi Quseir Maghersum1

456.25 km 1156.25 km

Clay and shale

Sandstone, Sand, clay, and
limestone, and siltstone evaporites
Sandstone and

Cherty limestone
Sand, sandstone,
and shale


Limestone and claystone Basalt, gravelstone,

K2 siltstone, and limestone

2254 m
Sandstone and limestone Siltstone and limestone



3272 m Sandstone

4350 m Maghersum1

Fig. 2. Correlation of sections along the western marginal zone of the Main Trough of the Red Sea Rift.

ing and redeposition of sediments near local basement cythere sp., Buntonian sp., Bairdia sp., etc.), which
uplifts, e.g., the SufrelDara, Ras Gharib, Mellaha, correspond to the Maastrichtian or Coniacianearly
and Port Safaga horsts [1]. Maastrichtian. The total thickness of the section
reaches 400 m.
The Upper Cretaceous marine and continental
sedimentary rocks crop out in the Sudanese segment The Mukawar Formation is penetrated by the
of the marginal zone at latitude 22 N, where they are Maghersum1 Well drilled near the Sudanese coast of
known as the Mukawar Formation [13, 16, 25]. In the the Red Sea (Figs. 1, 2). These are continental and
coastal sections near the marginal scarp, the formation partly nearshore marine sand and sandstone, as well
is composed of red beds and gray fluvial quartz sand as marine shale, all with limestone interlayers. White,
stone with interbeds of dark gray and reddish brown gray, pale orange, and reddish brown sand and sand
clay, marlstone, and limestone with mollusk and ostra stone are finegrained, often dolomitic, clayey, and
code remains (Brachycythere cf. ledaforma, Isohabro glauconitebearing. The thickness of the formation in

GEOTECTONICS Vol. 44 No. 3 2010


the well is 180 m, 30 m of which is made up of sand Synsedimentation slumps with olistoliths are noted
stone. In the Maghersum1 Well, the Mukawar For in this section.
mation overlaps with unconformity the cenotypal To the northwest of Quseir, at a certain distance from
fractured basalt 200 m in apparent thickness. The age the rift, the Eocene sequence consists of lacustrine lime
of this basalt is unknown; however, judging from the stone and marlstone with sandstone and siltstone inter
relationship with the Mukawar Formation, it is Creta beds [23, 29]. The strata dip at angles of 2030 and over
ceous, most likely Upper Cretaceous. It cannot be lap the eroded marine limestone of the Tebes Formation,
ruled out that this basalt lies within the Upper Creta filling together with the latter a narrow graben extending
ceous section rather than at its bottom. The total in the northwestern direction [26].
thickness of this section exceeds 700 m (Mukawar In the Sudanese segment of the western marginal
Formation and basaltic unit). rift zone, the Mukawar Formation is overlapped with
At the Arabian flank of the Red Sea Rift, the Upper scouring by the Hamamit Formation, whose Eocene
Cretaceous sedimentary rocks were revealed in out lower Miocene [16] or Paleocenelower Miocene age
crops near Djidda at 22 N [11, 14, 22, 25] and [15] is determined from correlation with the marginal
approximately at 27 N in the Aznam district. It is rift section in the north. The lithology of this sequence
assumed that these rocks make up a continuous sec varies from the coastal plain toward the Red Sea. Red
tion with the Paleocene and Eocene rocks unconform sandstone with conglomerate interlayers up to 250 m
ably overlapped by Oligocene sediments [32]. In the in apparent thickness is predominant near the mar
south of the Arabian coast of the Red Sea at 1745 S, in ginal scarps. In the Maghersum1 Well, the Hamamit
the nearshore zone, the Mansiyah1 Well penetrated Formation is composed of redbrown coarsegrained
the Eocene gray shale with conglomerate, salt, and quartz sandstone with sporadic conglomerate lenses
finegrained sandstone liying at a depth of 36004000 m containing wellrounded quartz and claystone peb
beneath Miocene evaporites. It is thought that the bles. Basaltic tuffaceous breccia is noted in the lower
Eocene rocks are the upper part of the Cretaceous part of the formation. In the abovementioned well,
Paleogene section that is exposed near Djidda [20]. the thickness of this formation is 1400 m. Basaltic
Finally, the Cretaceous continental rocks cut through lavas and tuffs occur in the lower 250 m of this forma
by Miocene gabbro and granophyre belonging to the tion penetrated by the Abu Shagara1 Well drilled on
Tihama Asir Igneous Complex are penetrated in the the shelf north of the Maghersum1 Well.
east of the Djirani Coastal Plain at a greater distance On the Eritrean coast, the Amber1 Well pene
from the Red Sea [39]. trated claystone at a depth 3800 m beneath the
The Upper Cretaceous rocks are exposed on Miocene evaporites; this rock has been dated at 36.5 Ma
Zabargad Island in the northern Red Sea 15 km west of (Eocene) with the KAr method [1].
the Axial Trough [31]. These are marine micaceous On the Arabian coast of the Red Sea in the Usfan
sandstone and black shale with limestone interlayer and Shumaishi districts near Djidda, wells penetrated
200300 m in total thickness that overlie the ancient continental and shallowwater marine terrigenous and
metamorphic basement and are overlapped with carbonate rocks with flora and fauna of Paleocene
unconformity by the Miocene (probably, Oligocene Oligocene mollusks [11, 14]. These rocks fill grabens
evaporites). The Cretaceous rocks on Zabargad Island and dip at angles of 1525, being overlapped with
are cut through by preMiocene (preOligocene?) insignificant angular unconformity by Miocene sedi
doleritic and basaltic dikes [24]. ments. In the upper part of the section, the terrigenous
rocks contain basaltic flows and tuff layers. Basaltic
As follows from the aforesaid, the Cretaceous rocks members up to 320 m thick are also contained in the
occur at the flanks and in the central part of the Main EoceneOligocene section exposed near the Khor
Trough and, in contrast to the thin continental Shinab.
sequences of the western and eastern blocks of the The Eocene and Oligocene sediments fill narrow
ArabianNubian Shield, are composed of continental grabens between the block of Precambrian basement
and shallowwater marine sediments. This regional along the eastern (Arabian) marginal zone (Fig. 3) far
lateral lithofacies zoning of the Upper Cretaceous to the north of Djidda [36], in particular, near the
rocks is of basic importance for the interpretation of Jebel Dailan and Wadi AlAznam (Fig. 1). In the first
the preCenozoic evolution of the Red Sea region. of these localities, the Eocene and Oligocene rocks are
Paleogene rocks are known from several areas at the composed largely of sandstone and siltstone; their
western and eastern flanks of the Main Trough of the incomplete thickness (the bottom is not exposed)
Red Sea Rift. In the Quseir district, the marine Paleo reaches 1400 m [34]. Basaltic flows occur in the lower
gene section consists of the following units (from bot part of the Eocene section [32]. The Oligocene sedi
tom to top): the Paleocene shale of the Esna Forma ments uniform in lithology near AlAznam fill a gra
tion (250 m); the lower Eocene cherty limestone of the ben about 100 km in extent and 815 km in width,
Tebes Formation (970 m); and middle Eocene sand which is oriented at an acute angle to the Red Sea
stone with limestone members of the Mokkatam For coast. The sequence, ~500 m thick, contains basaltic
mation (incomplete thickness is 650 m) [15]. flows.

GEOTECTONICS Vol. 44 No. 3 2010


Oligocene Miocene


~5 km



~2 km

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Fig. 3. Schematic geological sections across the eastern coastal zone of the Red Sea in (a) Maqna and (b) Jebel Dailan districts,
after [32]. (13) Miocene rocks: (1) evaporites, (2) marlstone, (3) reef limestone; (4) Oligocene sandstone and sand; (5, 6)
Eocene rocks: (5) basalt, (6) conglomerate; (7) Precambrian basement.

To the south of Djidda, the Paleogene rocks occur NEOGENE AND QUATERNARY SEDIMENTS
in the coastal Jizan Plain (Fig. 1), where they are also Miocene sediments are predominant in the section
confined to the extended marginal graben. The weath of the Main Trough of the Red Sea Rift (Fig. 4) and are
ered surface of the Precambrian basement is over characterized by lateral and vertical lithofacies vari
lapped here by conglomerate and siltstone of the ability. One of the beststudied complete Miocene sec
Ayanah Formation that gives way upsection to basaltic tions was penetrated by exploratory wells at the
lavas and tuffs of the Ad Darb Formation and a mem Sudanese coast of the Red Sea. The following lithos
ber of intercalating dacite, rhyolite, and ignimbrite tratigraphic units are recognized here (from bottom to
and continental thinbedded clastic rocks of the Baid top): Maghersum Group, Belaim Formation, Dun
Formation. The volcanic rocks similar to those contained gunab Formation, Zeit Formation, and Abu Shagara
in the Baid Formation are known as the Liyah Formation. Group [15, 16].
The Baid Formation is Oligocene in age [39]. The Maghersum Group (lowermiddle Miocene)
consists of marine clastic rocks separated from the
In general, the data mentioned above testify to the underlying Hamamit Formation by the erosion sur
extensive occurrence of CretaceousPaleogene rocks face and grading to the overlying Miocene sediments.
beneath the Miocene complexes of the Main Trough. Neoalveolina Borelis sp., Miogypsina sp., Elphidium sp.,
This statement is reflected in the once proposed model Penetoplis sp., and Planktonic sp. were found in the
of the deep structure of the rift complex based on the cliffs. The Abu Shagara1 and Durwara2 wells pene
results of drilling and seismic stratigraphy [15] (Fig. 4). trated light gray gravely sand with conglomerate lenses
Moreover, in order to study the geological history of and interlayers of browngray shale and siltstone. The
section is characterized by rhythmic intercalation of
the region to estimate the petroleum resource poten thick psammitic and thin pelitic beds. The thickness of
tial of the rift, the American Geological Survey com the group in both wells is 500600 m (incomplete in
piled a chart of preNeogene stratigraphic units of the the second well).
Red Sea region (Fig. 5). This chart and the correlation The rock salt and anhydrite of the Kareem Forma
of the stratigraphic sections in the Red Sea Rift [13] tion (10001500 m) occur in the upper part of the sec
not only confirm the extensive coverage by the Creta tion. In some places of the Sudanese rift segment, the
ceousPaleogene sequences in this region but also Maghersum Group is composed of carbonate rocks
demonstrate the spatiotemporal relationships of vari only (Marafit Well) or is absent from the section
ous facies and local unconformities. Thus, the avail (Maghersum1 Well).
able data indicate that since the Cretaceous the Red The Belaim Formation (middle Miocene) consists
Sea region has been unstable. of lagoonal and marine coarse to mediumgrained

GEOTECTONICS Vol. 44 No. 3 2010


Marafit1 Durwara2 Bashaier1A Suakin1 S. Suakin1

Middleupper Miocene Central part of the

Clastic wedge PliocenePleistocene Red Sea Trench
Clastic wedge
Lowermiddle Miocene
Clastic wedge

Oceanic crust
Prerift complex
Continental crust
Dungunab Formation, rock salt
(effects of salt tectonics are omitted)

Fig. 4. Geological section across the Sudanese segment of the Main Trough from the data of drilling and seismic stratigraphy, after
AGIP (1987).

sands, chemogenic and organogenic limestones, rock Miocene sediments and are conformably overlapped
salt, and anhydrite and is crowned in most sections by by Pliocene sediments [1, 2].
coral limestone. In some places, for example, in the At the Arabian flank of the intercontinental rift, the
Maghersum1 Well, evaporites disappear from the sec most complete Miocene section was penetrated by the
tion. The formation, about 700 m thick, is transitional Mansiyah1 Well located in the coastal zone between
between the evaporite and preevaporite Miocene. 17 and 17 30 N to the north of the town of Jizan. As
The Dungunab Formation (middleupper follows from the correlation with the Sudanese
Miocene) is the major saline phase, that is, the thick Miocene section, the section in this well consists of the
evaporite sequence with prevalence of rock salt and lowermiddle Miocene infraevaporite group of clayey
anhydrite and subordinate gypsum, shale, and sand sandstone; gray shale (39313700 m); shale with con
stone, which contain both freshwater and marine glomerate, salt layers, and finegrained sandstone
fauna. The thickness of this sequence in the Dungunab (37003472 m); the middleupper Miocene evapor
Well is 1700 m. ite group of clay with anhydrite interbeds (34722230 m);
and the upper Miocene (lower continental sequence)
The Zeit Formation (upper Miocene) is composed of the Zeit Formation: red shale, sandstone, and con
largely of continental evaporites and fluvial clastic glomeratre (22301000 m). Pliocene sediments occur
sediments and subordinate marine sediments upsection.
(Suakin1 Well). The thickness of this formation is
The Miocene sections in the north part of the east
300400 m.
ern marginal zone of the Red Sea Rift are similar in
In the wells drilled at the Eritrean coast, the mainly structure but less thick.
marine Miocene sections consist of the following Moving away from the marginal zones of the Main
stratigraphic units (Fig. 1) (from bottom to top in a Trough, the Miocene section becomes more uniform.
well near the town of Massawa): the Dogham Forma For example, in the Amber1 Well drilled in the inner
tion of basalt, tuff, and sandstone and the Habab For part of the Eritrean shelf, the PlioceneQuaternary
mation of sandstone, clay, and evaporites (lowermid carbonate sediments overlie the Miocene evaporite
dle Miocene, 3500 m); the Desset Formation (upper sequence (rock salt with sporadic clay interbeds)
Miocene), where the lower 1000 m are composed of reaching 3600 m in thickness.
clayey sandstone with interbeds of redbrown clay, In the B1 Well, drilled closer to the Axial Trough,
gypsum, and anhydrite and the upper 500 m of the thickness of the Miocene evaporite section is
mediumgrained polymictic sandstone. reduced to 2500 m and many basaltic sills and lava
At a distance from shoreline, the B1 Well pene flows appear therein [1]. Approaching the Axial
trated the following Miocene section (from bottom to Trough from the eastern margin of the Main Trough,
top): the Habab Formation (lowermiddle Miocene) the structure of the Miocene section changes in the
consisting of marine shallowwater clay, sandstone, same way. According to the seismic tomography, the
and marlstone with anhydrite and rock salt interlayers thickness of the Miocene rocks in the most sagged
(incomplete thickness is 1100 m); the upper Miocene parts of the Main Trough attains 45005000 m and is
Amber Formation of rock salt (270 m); and the Desset reduced 23 times with increase in the amount of syn
Formation of sandstone and clay (1100 m), which rift basaltic igneous rocks. It is thought that the lower
overlie with poorly expressed unconformity the older middle and middleupper Miocene clastic rocks

GEOTECTONICS Vol. 44 No. 3 2010


Gulf of Suez, Sudan and Saudi Arabia and

Stratigraphic scale
Egypt Eritrea Yemen
System Series Stratigraphic units
Abu Zenima Tairan


Baid traps

Madi, Tanqa

Dogali (volcanic)
Mokkatam, Hamamit



Eocene Mimia,
Darat (?)
Tebes (Egma)

(Umm Himar, Usfan, Adaffa)


Esna Zir

Dukah Formation
Continental and nearshore marine
(Sudr, Dakhla) Mukawar Formation
(partly volcanic)

Amba Aradam (?)


Sudr Formation
(Duwi, Braun)
Santonian Matulla (Quseir) (?)

Coniacian Wata
Turonian Abu Qada Kurmah
Cenomanian Raha

Nubia A Tawilla


Amba Aradam

Barremian (El (?)





Fig. 5. PreNeogene stratigraphic units in the Red Sea region, simplified after [25].

pinch out toward the Axial Trough, whereas the mid zones, complete the section of the Main Trough of the
dle Miocene evaporite sequence (Dungunab Forma Red Sea Rift. In the Sudanese segment of the western
tion and its analogues) remains unchanged (Fig. 4). marginal zone, these sediments, reaching 400 m in
Pliocene and Quaternary sediments, mainly marine thickness, are known as the Abu Shagara Group that
shallowwater and partly continental in marginal consists of the Pliocene Wardam Formation of psam

GEOTECTONICS Vol. 44 No. 3 2010


mitic sediments and the Pleistocene Shagara Forma rocks on Zabargad Island and the Three Brothers
tion of reef limestones. The Abu Shagara Group over Islets [31, 37], as well as along the marginal scarps in
laps the Miocene evaporites with scouring. Egypt and Sudan [10, 19]. At the same time, the evo
In the wells drilled on the Eritrean shelf of the Red lution of the Cretaceous Red Sea basin was accompa
Sea, the PlioceneQuaternary section 700800 m nied by alkaline magmatism on its western shoulder.
thick is composed of chemogenic and reef limestones The Late Cretaceous syenite, alkali granite, and gab
pertaining to the Dunishib Formation overlying the bro were emplaced in the Red Sea Mountains of
Miocene saliniferous sequence with scouring. Similar Sudan and on the Sinai Peninsula [2, 6, 38]. Alkali
composition and thickness are characteristic of the basalts erupted in the Late Cretaceous in the Eastern
coeval sediments in the Arabian portion of the Main Desert of Egypt near Wadi Natash. This implies that
Trough. The integrated section of the Main Trough of the Cretaceous magmatism was characterized by the
the Red Sea Rift is shown in Fig. 6 on the basis of drill same lateral zoning (lowalkaline rocks in the trough
ing results in the Sudanese segment. and alkaline rocks in the marginal uplift) as the Ceno
The deepwater Axial Trough of the Red Sea is zoic synrift magmatism (tholeiitic basalts in the Red
underlain by oceantype crust formed over the last 5 Sea Rift and alkali basalts in the Precambrian Arabian
3 Ma. The trough is filled with tholeiitic basalts over Shield).
lapped by metalliferous sediments, whose thickness in The paleotectonic attributes and lateral magmatic
the Atlantis II Deep attains 800 m [7]. The stepwise zoning are sound arguments for interpreting the Cre
walls of the trough are composed of Upper Miocene taceous troughs that dissect the ArabianNubian
evaporaties and PlioceneQuaternary pelitic and car Shield as rifts formed as a result of the first phase of
bonate sediments. tectonic subsidence in this region (Fig. 6). Three cir
cumstances support such interpretation.
MAIN FEATURES OF THE EVOLUTION (1) In the Derubeb area of the Red Sea Mountains
OF THE RED SEA RIFT in Sudan, a system of small meridional grabens are
connected with the Red Sea Rift near the Tokar River
According to the most popular concept, the Creta delta. These grabens are filled with Cenozoic basalt,
ceous and Paleogene sediments in the Red Sea Zone rhyolite, and dacite along with Cretaceous shallow
and the adjacent coastal plains make up a prerift com water marine and continental rocks. There are
plex [12, 13, 25, 31]. The term prerift emphasizes, grounds to assume that these grabens are offsets of the
however, only the fact that these sediments were coeval Red Sea Rift.
deposited before the onset of evolution of the Ceno (2) In the system of small grabens to the north of
zoic Red Sea Rift, but does not describe the tectonic Medina, the largest HamdJizil Basin (~200 km long
nature of the trough where these sediments were accu and 20 km wide) extends parallel to the Red Sea Rift.
mulating. The characteristic attributes of the Creta This basin consists of two halfgrabens filled with syn
ceous trough are as follows. rift cherty and clastic rocks flooded by Cenozoic rift
The occurrence of Upper Cretaceous shallow related basalts [36], which are displaced by younger
water marine sediments in sections of the Red Sea Rift normal faults. The age of these basalts and the under
and the absence of similar sediments beyond its limits lying rocks remains unknown.
except the Eastern Desert of Egypt [23, 27, 29] furnish
evidence for the existence of a separate marine basin of (3) The Cretaceous trough of the Red Sea Zone
that age between Africa and Arabia. The configuration extends in the same directions as the rifts of southern
of this basin was almost the same as that of the younger Sudan and the Bihendula Rift in northwestern Soma
Main Trough. This fact allows us to consider the pre lia, which originated in the Jurassic but underwent the
Miocene troughs to be related to the early stage of the most intense subsidence just in the Late Cretaceous [8].
evolution of the Red Sea Rift System (Fig. 6). All these data allow us to suggest that the preCen
The character of preMiocene magmatism leads to ozoic troughs in the central ArabianNubian Shield,
the same conclusion. The volcanic activity in the rift together with the basins of southern Sudan and north
zone began as early as the Cretaceous. At the western western Somalia make up an integrated rift system.
flank of the rift, in its Sudanese and Eritrean marginal Assuming the rift nature of Cretaceous and Paleo
zones, volcanic rocks are known in the Mukawar and gene sections in the Red Sea Zone, we inevitably arrive
Dogali formations, respectively [13, 15, 25] (Fig. 5). at the conclusion of inheritance of older cognate
At the eastern flank, the Eocene igneous rocks occur structural elements by the younger Main Trough.
in the Shumaishi and Baid formation of Saudi Arabia In the western, African marginal zone of the Red
and Yemen [25]. Sea Rift, the Cretaceous, Paleogene, and Miocene
As was mentioned above, the Maghersum1 Well sequences make up continuous sections. At the east
drilled near the Sudanese coast penetrated cenotypal ern, Arabian flank, the Cretaceous and Paleogene
tholeiitic lavas and tuffs of presumably Cretaceous rocks fill isolated grabens [11, 17, 25, 36] and are over
age; the incomplete sequence of these rocks is 200 m lapped by Miocene with sharp angular unconformity
[15]. The Cretaceous dikes cut through Precambrian [32]. It is assumed that these rocks do not spread from

GEOTECTONICS Vol. 44 No. 3 2010


Phase Stratigraphic Lithostratigraphic Lithology Rock

scale unit

Abu Shagara
Pleistocene ShagaraFormation
Postsaline Reef limestone,

Pliocene Wardam sand, and clay
Lower Formation (up to 400 m)

Upper Zeit Fmt. Rock salt, anhydrite,

middle Dungunab gypsum, and sandstone
Miocene Formation (up to 350 m)
Late rifting (Cenozoic)

Reef limestone,

Middle evaporites, clay, and
clayey sandstone
(to 700 m)

Marlstone, sandstone,

stone, shale, sand, and


(up to 1000 m)


Red sandstone,
conglomerate, claystone,
Hamamit Formation
and basaltic tuff
(up to 1400 m)

Early rifting

Mukawar Formation (?)

Red and gray sandstones with
Mukawar Formation interbeds of silty clay, and
(Senonian) marlstone
(up to 300 m)
Upper Red and gray
Lower Malha Formation sandstones
Cretaceous (up to 300 m)

Fig. 6. Integrated lithostratigraphic section of the Main Trough of the Red Sea Rift from results of exploration drilling in the
Sudanese segment, after [15].

the marginal zone toward the Red Sea into the inner First, there are forcible arguments to suggest that
zone of the Main Trough [32]. There is evidence that the extension and subsidence of the continental crust,
the Oligocene sediments in the Dailan area in the at least in the marginal zones of the recent interconti
north of the Arabian flank of the rift were derived from nental rift, started earlier than it is commonly
the inner part of the presentday Red Sea [34]. assumed, in the Late Cretaceous, and continued in the
In general, the attributes of the Cretaceous and Paleogene and then in the Miocene. Second, it cannot
Paleogene sections lead to the following conclusions. be ruled out that marginal rift zones developed in the

GEOTECTONICS Vol. 44 No. 3 2010


I Cretaceous and Paleogene as independent basins.

Sudan EarlyLate Cretaceous Arabia Most likely they were halfgrabens separated by
uplifted basement blocks that underwent denudation
(Fig. 7, I, II). Thus, a complex intercontinental rift
system consisting of several troughs and separating
uplifts existed in the Red Sea region in the Cretaceous
II and Paleogene. It cannot be ruled out that the origin of
Late CretaceousPaleocene this intercontinental rift was related to the formation
of earlier rifts in southern Sudan, northern Kenya, and
northwestern Somalia (Bihendula Rift) that extended
in the same direction controlled by the tectonic
stresses which existed during separation of Africa and
India and the opening of the Indian Ocean. Keeping
this in mind, it may be stated that the region of the
future Red Sea Rift underwent tectonic instability
beginning from the Jurassic. In the Paleogene, the
flanks of the Main Trough were involved in intense
sagging, whereas its inner region was uplifted and
affected by erosion (Fig. 7, II, III). Since the Creta
ceous, the African flank has been involved in more sta
IV ble sagging. The Arabian flank started to subside
Oligoceneearly Miocene
intensely only in the Paleogene (Fig. 5) and was char
acterized by higher tectonic mobility, which gave rise
to the formation of a preMiocene system of horsts
and grabens [11], whereas at the western flank the
Miocene subsidence began without any structural
rearrangement. The occurrence of Eocene and Oli
Middlelate Miocene gocene basalts in the eastern marginal zone also indi
cates the increasing activity of deeprooted faults that
bounded the Paleogene rift basin in the east.
The western and eastern flanks of the Main Trough
of the Red Sea Rift that developed nonuniformly in
the Paleogene and partly in the Cretaceous and
Miocene are structural elements of the African and
VI Arabian rift zones underlain by different basement
blocks, which are mafic and relatively dense in the
west and generally sialic and thus lowdensity in the
east [28].
As is known, the uplifting of the Earths crust,
withinplate magmatism, and rifting are currently
referred to plumes and superplumes [4, 5, 9]. Seismic
tomography and highresolution satellite images of
the Red Sea Zone demonstrate active and extensive
mantle flow beneath the lithosphere of this region.
1 2 3 4 5 6 The effect of this superplume on lithospheric inhomo
geneities is a cause of the dynamic processes that pro
7 8 9 10 11 12 ceeded in northeastern Africa [17]. The mechanism of
this interaction, however, should be specified [5]. The
conjugation of the marginal African zone of stable
subsidence with the zone of highdensity basement is
Fig. 7. Geological evolution of the Red Sea Rift: a conceptual of special interest.
scheme. (IVI) stages: (I) terminal Cretaceous, (II) terminal In general, the geological evolution of the Red Sea
Paleogene, (III) terminal Oligocene, (IV) terminal middle
Miocene, (V) terminal Miocene, (VI) present time. (1) region may be described as follows. Its subsidence
water; (2) coral limestone; (3, 4) evaporites: (3) carbonate accompanied by shortterm southward ingressions
rocks and evaporites and (4) rock salt; (5) volcanic rocks; from the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa started
(6) basaltic flows and their conduits; (7) basaltic dike in the Cretaceous and probably as early as in the Juras
swarms in the newly formed oceanic crust; (8) sandstone
and quartz sand with clay; (9) tension (a) and shear sic. In the Paleogene, sedimentation in the marginal
(b) fractures; (10) tectonic stress; (11) Precambrian base zones of the Main Trough developed under shallow
ment; (12) Cretaceous rocks. water and partly continental conditions. In the Pale

GEOTECTONICS Vol. 44 No. 3 2010


ocene and Eocene, marine ingressions came from the that was filled largely by clay sediments (Fig. 7, VI).
shelf basin of northern Africa. In the Oligocene, these This trough marked the divergence of Africa and Ara
paleogeographic links were interrupted due to the bia and the transition of the Red Sea Rift from the cat
uplift of the northern and eastern territories. The Red egory of intracontonental structural elements to the
Sea rift connected with the Aden Gulf Rift, which category of intercontinental structures.
started to develop. In the Paleogene, the Main Trough
was distinctly separated by faults from the conjugated
uplifts of the Precambrian basement covered either by CONCLUSIONS
mantles of weathering or a thin sequence of continen According to the current knowledge, the Cenozoic
tal sediments. Red Sea Rift consists of two structural elements as if
The Miocene was an epoch of the most intense sag enclosed into each other: the wide Main Trough that
ging of the Main Trough of the Red Sea Rift (the sec started to evolve as early as in the Paleogene [3, 6, 38]
ond phase of tectonic subsidence). The inner longitu and the narrow Axial Trough superimposed upon the
dinal rise, which was inherited from the earlier stage of inner zone of the Main Trough in the MioceneQua
evolution, has become more contrasting, largely ternary as a result of drift.
owing to the accelerated sagging of the adjacent sub Consideration of the available geological and geo
basins (Fig. 7, IV, V). Over the Miocene, these basins physical data and their integration have allowed me to
subsided by 45 km and the dividing zone by less than draw the following conclusions.
half of this value; both were overlapped by evaporites. (1) The extension and subsidence of the continen
Thus, at that time, the Red Sea Rift was a halfclosed tal crust of the ArabianNubian Shield most probably
evaporire basin separated by faults from the relatively began in the Cretaceous. The history of the evolution
low uplifts of the Precambrian basement. Marine of the Red Sea Rift can be divided into two active
ingressions came here from the south, i.e., from the phases of tectonic subsidence, which correspond to
Gulf of Aden, which was rather wide at that time and the rift cycles. The first phase (Late Cretaceous
connected with the Indian Ocean. The lithologic Eocene) is separated from the second phase (Oli
diversity of the Miocene sequences in the marginal goceneQuaternary) by a period of uplift and denuda
zones of the Main Trough, in particular the occur tion.
rence of conglomerates, testifies to repeated rising of (2) To provide insights into the long and complex
the rifts shoulders and formation of rather high history of the Red Sea Rift and regional evolution as a
mountain chains along them. The extended Miocene whole, it is necessary to continue drilling of deep
dolerite dikes at the Arabian flank of the rift (Fig. 1) exploration wells both along the Axial Trough and in
point to magmatic activity of the eastern fault walls deep segments of the Main Trough in order to study
inherited from the Paleogene. Cretaceous and Paleogene facies, the chemistry of vol
The terminal Miocene was characterized by gen canic rocks, and their timing.
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