The rifting to spreading transition in the Red Sea

Nico Augustin, Colin W. Devey, Froukje M. Van der Zwan, Peter Feldens, Masako Tominaga, Rashad A. Bantan, Tom Kwasnitschka

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81 Scopus citations


The transition from continental rifting to seafloor spreading is presently occurring at only a few places on Earth, such as the Red Sea or the Woodlark Basin. Competing theories for how spreading begins (either by quasi-instantaneous formation of a whole spreading segment or by initiation of spreading at multiple discrete "nodes" separated by thinned continental lithosphere) have been put forward. The major evidence for the nodes theory comes from the Red Sea and geophysical surveys carried out there in the "multi-deeps region" during the 1970's and 1980's. We present new high-resolution multibeam bathymetric information over the same region, which, when combined with acoustic backscatter data, seafloor sampling and magmatic geochemical information appears to provide no support for the nodes model. We show that, although the discrete deeps undoubtedly exist, they are not separated from one another by tectonic boundaries but rather represent "windows" onto a continuous spreading axis which is locally inundated and masked by massive slumping of sediments and evaporites from the rift flanks. The geophysical data that was previously used to support the presence of continental crust between the "nodes" can be equally well explained by processes related to the sedimentary blanketing and sub-sedimentary hydrothermal alteration. A single, "quasi-instantaneous segment formation" model would appear to be all that is required to explain observations from present-day rifting/spreading transitions globally. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-230
Number of pages14
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Jun 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


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