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Abstract

Although the Neogene Red Sea basin has been intensively examined as the type example of a young, narrow ocean, salt tectonics there has been neglected. The Yemeni part of the Red Sea exhibits a wide array of salt tectonic features within a small area. Above the rift section, a middle Miocene evaporite layer, originally 1.5-2 km thick, is the source for autochthonous and allochthonous salt structures. In the middle-late Miocene, evaporite-clastic overburden, halite, and anhydrite layers 50-350 m thick assisted deformation by providing several levels for décollement. Four southward-narrowing tectonic zones trend subparallel to the basin axis. Areas of extension in the easternmost Roller Zone, severe shortening in the central Canopy Zone, and mild shortening in the western Anticline Zone all narrow then pinch out at roughly the same latitude. This convergence suggests that extension and contraction are linked by various salt layers and by transfer structures transecting the tectonic zones. Extension, contraction, and coeval salt canopy emplacement were superposed, mostly between 8 and 5 Ma. The presence of allochthonous salt sheets casts doubt on previous estimates of salt 5 km thick in the southern Red Sea. Fault scarp asperities in the basin floor may have acted as buttresses against which contraction was initiated. The wide variety of salt structures may be due to the weakness and anisotropy of the partially evaporitic overburden and to high geothermal gradients (up to 77°C/km). These factors enhanced the deformation driven by gravity spreading and sedimentary differential loading.

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