Backreef and beach carbonate sediments of the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia: impacts of reef geometry and currents on sediment composition

Thomas Missimer*, S. Al-Mashharawi, A. H.A. Dehwah, K. Coulibaly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Three sites in the Red Sea were investigated to assess the variability of composition in Holocene sediments of the backreef environment within 0–2 m of water depth. This is important because composition of the sediment is commonly used to estimate water depth in ancient carbonate rocks. The site located at the King Abdullah Economic City (Saudi Arabia) contains a fringing reef with the reef tract located very close to the beach at the north end, flaring to the south to produce a narrower backreef area compared to the other two sites. This geometry produces a north to south current with a velocity of up to 15 cm s−1, particularly during high onshore winds. The sediments contain predominantly non-skeletal grains, including peloids, coated grains, ooids, and grapestones that form on the bottom. The percentage of coralgal grains in the sediment was significantly lower than at the other two sites studied. Om Al Misk Island and Shoaiba have a much lower-velocity current within the backreef zone and contain predominantly coralgal sediments from the beach to the landward edge of the reef tract. The two locations containing the predominantly coralgal microfacies were statistically similar, but the King Abdullah Economic City site was statistically different despite having a similar water depth profile. Slight differences in reef configuration, including reef orientation and distance from the shore, can produce considerable differences in sediment thickness and composition within the backreef environment, which should induce caution in the interpretation of water depth in ancient carbonate rocks using composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1157-1169
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Backreef zone
  • Coral reef
  • Grain size distribution
  • Holocene
  • Red Sea
  • Sediment composition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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