What is it about?

In the northern Red Sea, an active rift basin, earthquakes are infrequent, except in Sinai and the Gulf of Aqaba, as shown in Figure 1. This does not appear to be due to poor recording of them and there are some potential reasons why earthquakes may be infrequent (link). Browsing through seismic reflection images collected by scientists from Columbia University in the 1980s, I came across the one shown in Figure 2. Such images are like vertical scans of the seabed and layering in them likely originates from effects of the layered sedimentary beds. However, please notice the jumbled layer on the right marked by the arrow, sandwiched between layers that appear not to be deformed. This is the kind of feature produced by major landslides. Such large features can be caused by the shaking during major earthquakes. So, is the lack of earthquakes that have been recorded (Figure 1) simply due to us not recording them for long enough in this region? In other words, is there a potential for a major (M>6) earthquake?

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Why is it important?

If a large earthquake were to occur, it could do considerable damage around the region. The possibility of one triggering a submarine landslide of large volume also poses the possibility of a tsunami being produced, which could affect many coastal cities.


The risks of earthquakes along a large transverse fault, the Zabarghad Fracture Zone, is being investigated as part of project ZAFRAN. In that project, scientists from the KAUST and collaborators are attempting to find the extent of micro-earthquakes along the fault using seabed seismometer recordings. That extent is a clue to the largest earthquake that can occur. We highlighted the image shown in Figure 2 in a newly published article, which explores also other threats to the region, including over-exploitation and environmental. A copy can be obtained from here. A free copy is available until December 31, 2023 here.

Dr Neil C. Mitchell
University of Manchester

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Towards a combined human-natural system approach in the Northern Red Sea Region: Ecological challenges, sustainable development, and community engagement, Marine Policy, January 2024, Elsevier,
DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2023.105917.
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