A newly recognized Tertiary dike complex and comagmatic volcanic rocks exposed on the central Saudi Arabian coastal plain record early stages of magmatism related to Red Sea rifting. Intrusive and stratigraphic relationships and new potassium-argon dating indicate episodic magmatism from about 30 Ma to the present. Additional stratigraphic and radiometric evidence suggests that limited rift-related magmatism began as early as about 50 Ma. An early phase of crustal extension in the region was accompanied by faulting and graben formation and by dike-swarm intrusion. The style of extension and intrusion changed at ∼20 Ma. Localized volcanism and sheeted dike injection ceased and were replaced by the intrusion of thick gabbro dikes. This change may mark the onset of sea-floor spreading in the central Red Sea.
The dikes and volcanic rocks consist of a bimodal mafic-felsic suite with transitional subalkaline to alkaline chemistry. Although no unique petrogenetic model can be developed for the suite, the following observations and conclusions have been drawn from the available reconnaissance geochemistry: (1) strontium isotopic initial ratios overlap in the range 0.7031 to 0.7047 and are not clearly related to alkalinity or silica content. The bimodality and alkalinity of the suite are therefore not products of contamination by the radiogenic Precambrian upper-crustal granitic rocks exposed in the region. (2) Several of the evolved rocks (rhyolites and comendite) show large to extreme negative europium anomalies and heavy rare-earth–element (HREE) enrichment, features that cannot be explained by low-pressure crystal fractionation of potential parent magmas. An intriguing possibility is that HREE enrichments and large negative Eu anomalies of some peraluminous rhyolites (and granites) may result from the complete melting of garnet from middle or lower crustal rocks. (3) Most of the basalts are light rare-earth element (LREE) enriched, consistent with derivation from fertile mantle in a continental-rift setting; however, interaction of the mafic melts with lower continental crust cannot be ruled out.
A model of poly-baric mantle-melt derivation, producing several alkaline-subalkaline cycles, best explains magmatism in the Red Sea region. Differences in the depths and dynamics of mantle-melt extraction and transport brought about through changes in crust and mantle structure as the rift and paar developed may account for the transition from mixed alkaline-subalkaline bimodal magmatism of the pre-20 Ma rift basin to exclusively subalkaline (tholeiitic) magmatism at the Red Sea spreading axis and to predominantly alkali basalt volcanism inland (within the Arabian Shield).