EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Tectonic control on the reef evolution in the Red Sea syn-rift basin

Tihana Pensa, Abdulkader Afifi, Antoine Delaunay, and Guillaume Baby
Tihana Pensa et al.
  • King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia (

Fossil carbonate reefs are common along rifts and rifted passive margins. They provide valuable paleoecological and paleogeographical information. Moreover, porous reef buildups are targeted as potential oil and gas reservoirs and sites for gas storage.

The Red Sea and Gulf of Suez contain several generations of reef deposits: (1) syn-rift Early and Middle Miocene reefs that formed along the eroded footwalls of normal faults, and (2) post-rift Pliocene-Holocene coastal reefs that split apart, subsided, and aggraded to form carbonate platforms by salt-driven raft tectonics. The Late Miocene lacks reefs due to evaporitic conditions. This study focuses on the uplifted Early-Middle Miocene reef deposits, which outcrop sporadically along the Arabian and African margins of the Red Sea, particularly the northern half, over a distance of ~1000 km. They are exhumed along the coastal plain at elevations of 50-150 meters. We studied several reefs on the Arabian side and carried out age determination implementing a revised planktonic foraminifera zonation and paleoenvironmental interpretation. We also used satellite images to identify and map similar exhumed reefs on the African side.

The Miocene reefs are located along the eroded footwalls of normal fault scarps that form the first or second marginal half grabens, usually sitting unconformably over the basement. The flat reef and back-reef lagoonal facies are often removed by erosion, but the dipping thick fore-reef talus breccias are preserved. The breccias are an unsorted mix of coral reef and back reef debris and also contain basement clasts. The linear fore-reef talus deposits follow along the fault scarps, revealing paleo-valleys incised into the hanging wall. Placing the reef on the basin-scale helps us distinguish the tectonic influence, accompanied by climate and eustatic sea-level variation, on shallow marine carbonates during rifting.

Mapping all published, newly discovered, and inferred outcrops along the African and Arabian coast of the Red Sea allow us to develop a new tectono-sedimentary model for reef evolution in the syn-rift setting. The proposed model explains the absence of the reef outcrops in the southern areas of the Arabian Red Sea and predicts subsurface zones where reef growth possibly took place. Nature of the contact between reef carbonates and the underlying Precambrian basement in conjunction with the consistently preserved fore-reef zone disclose the uplift history and erosion events prior and post reef growth. In addition, following the reef distribution, we developed a syn-rift paleogeographic model of the Red Sea.

How to cite: Pensa, T., Afifi, A., Delaunay, A., and Baby, G.: Tectonic control on the reef evolution in the Red Sea syn-rift basin, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-7186,, 2022.


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