Journal of Water Resource and Protection, 2013, 5, 414-426 Published Online April 2013 (
Environmental Assessment of Natural & Anthr opogenic
Hazards and Impact on Seawater Desalination along Red
Sea Coast of Saudi Arabia
Omar Siraj Aburizaiza1, Nayyer Alam Zaigham1*, Zeeshan A. Nayyar2,
Gohar A. Mahar1, Azhar Siddiq1,2, Sabahat Noor1
1Unit for Ain Zubaida Rehabilitation & Groundwater Research, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, KSA
2University of Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan
Email: *
Received January 30, 2013; revised March 3, 2013; accepted March 14, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Omar Siraj Aburizaiza et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The major part of the eastern coastline of Red Sea belongs to Saudi Arabia, which provid es great potential for desalina-
tion activities, but not entirely free of risk as in general it is not environment-friendly. In recent years, the rapid urbani-
zation processes on west coast of Kingdom have resulted in substantial growth of commercial and industrial centers that
added to more water demand. As a consequence, reliance on desalinated water has increased markedly over the last few
decades. As a leading producer of desalinated water, Saudi Arabia used to process more than 3.29 million m3/day from
its plants along the Red Sea coast. At the same ti me, any ad equate b ackup plan lack s to meet regu lar water demand ( s) in
case of unforeseen emergencies. Present integrated research studies have identified some of the natural and anthropo-
genic hazards, which may pose major threats to quality of seawater as well as to the desalination facilities themselves.
In view of these hazardous conditions, the overwhelming dependence on seawater desalination appears to be in jeop-
ardy and may affect water management strategy and future socioeconomic development. It is therefore suggested the
need of alternate options for cultivation of standby water resources and other management strategies parallel to the
seawater desalination on similar priorities.
Keywords: Natural Hazards; Red Sea; Desalination; Water Management; Saudi Arabia
1. Introduction
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has become the leading
producer of desalinated water from the Red Sea [1]. In
the wake of the first operations, progress in the field of
desalination remained gradual for a time, but has accel-
erated rapidly in recent years [2,3] and thus, desalination
activities were unilaterally given priority. Desalinated
Red Sea water is now the main source of domestic water
supply in the western parts of Saudi Arabia. In addition
to the coastal cities of Jeddah, Yanbu, Jizan, Al-Wajh
and others several interior ones, such as Makkah, Madina,
Taif, Albaha as well as their surrounding areas, are be-
coming increasingly dependent on desalinated water. This
trend represents a drastic shift from the conventional
groundwater supply sources.
Interestingly, the inventory data of the International
Desalination Association (IDA) show that there has been
an explosion in the demand for further major expansion
of desalination facilities in the Red Sea region. This de-
mand is caused by natural growth processes of modern
development, by migration from rural to urban areas and
by the increase in the number of pilgrims visiting the
Holy Places. For example, the population of Saudi Ara-
bia has increased from 22.68 million in 2004 to more
than 27.14 million in 2010 during last five years [4,5].
Likewise, the number of pilgrims has risen from 90,662
in 1923 to more than 3 million in 2010 [6].
During the last decade, multiple research delineating
temporal variations in the physical and chemical charac-
teristic parameters of the Red Sea was carried out to
study the impact of desalin ation on the seawater. Results
of these studies identified significant adverse environ-
mental degradation causing deterioration to the seawaters,
the coastlines, and the prevailing aquatic marine ecosys-
*Corresponding a uthor.
opyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
tems [7-12]. Preliminary results of the study have been
presented as po ster # NH31A-1526 in the American Geo-
physical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting of December 2011
Present paper describes identified hazards, like, sub-
marine configuration, tectonic & seismotectonics setups,
volcanism, seawater inflows & outflows, high salinity
and other pollution contributors and their impacts on the
desalination facilities along the Saudi Red Sea coast.
2. Methodology: Integrated Approach
The adopted methodology comprises of three steps: 1)
acquisition of pertinent archive literature and data from
different sources in regard to different disciplines associ-
ated directly and/or indirectly with seawater desalination;
2) processing of collected data, developing of different
interactive overlays, their interpretations and models; 3)
integration of deduced inferences made during the re-
search processes and the recommendation for future sus-
tainable alternatives.
Several maps and tables were prepared based on the
acquired data. For example, the bathymetry map of Red
Sea was developed by using the satellite data acquired
from General Bathymetry Charts of Oceans (GEBCO)
from the website of the National Geophysical Data Cen-
tre (NGDC) of the National Oceanographic and Atmos-
pheric Administration (NOAA). The collected data were
then transformed into shp-files by using ArcGIS software
to prepare customized bathymetry map for the present
The tectonic map of the region was prepared by com-
piling the two-minute image-tiles downloaded from the
website of NGDC and subsequently transferring the iden-
tified tectonic features [14]. For the preparation of seis-
micity trend maps, the relevant earthquake data were fil-
tered out from the earthquake catalog of National Earth-
quake Information (NEIC) of the United States Geologi-
cal Survey (USGS) [15]. Similarly, other data and satel-
lite images, related to active volcanic activities and the
salt-tectonics, acquired through literature research and
NASA archive library and other cited sources have been
assimilated in the study.
3. Status of Seawater Desa li n at io n al on g Re d
In Saudi Arabia, urban water demand has been met in-
creasingly by desalinated seawater. The country’s de-
salination technology has extensively been developed
over the past 40 years and involves substantial cost be-
cause of its intensive energy use [16]. In 2005, the total
world installed capacity for seawater desalination was
about 27.8 million m3/d [17,18], and subsequently, was
increased to 59.9 million m3/d [3]. Likewise in Saudi
Arabia, an increase of the desalinated water production
was also increased from 0.68 to 1.1 billion m3/year be-
tween 1992 and 2006 [19]. The cumulative water produc-
tion, by using the mixed MSF, MED, and RO seawater
desalination technologies, was estimated at the rates of
about 3.29 million m3/day along the Red Sea for Saudi
Arabia [20].
The seawater desalination activities along the Red Sea
coast were found on a large scale (Figure 1), with major
congestions observed on the mid-eastern coast in the
Yanbu-Shoiba-Assir area and near the northern end of
the Red Sea, particularly in Aqaba and the Suez gulfs.
4. Natural Hazards and Impact on Seawater
& Desalination
A multidisciplinary research study has been carried out
to identify hazards and to analyze the hazardous factors
that may irreversibly affect the sustainability of the de-
salinated water-supply and/or the desalination facilities,
and to assess the direct and/or indirect impacts on the
long-term dependency of the seawater desalination net-
works in parts of Red Sea coast.
The natural threats include the 1) submarine configu-
ration and geomorphology of Red Sea, 2) geotectonic
setups, 3) seismicity trends, 4) volcanic activities, 5) na-
tural factors causing constant increase of seawater salin-
ity, 6) interactive chocking of out-flow as well inflow to/
Figure 1. Locations of desalination plants along coastal ar-
eas of Red Sea. Red, pale and green balls represent MSF,
MED and RO desalination plants respectively. Data source:
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
from neighboring fresh and/or seawater sources.
4.1. Submarine Configuration and
Geomorphology of Red Sea
Red Sea is an enclosed and elongated narrow saline-
water body, sandwiched between African continent and
Arabian Peninsula, except a bottleneck opening at Bab-
el-Mandeb. Thus, it is practically isolated from the open
ocean. It extends for a little more than 2000 kilometers
from Suez-Aqaba Gulfs in north to Strait of Bab-el-Man-
deb in south that further connects with the Aden Gulf and
then Indian Ocean. The Red Sea is over 300 kilometers
wide parallel to latitude 16˚N. However, the general
width is about 250 kilometers that particularly shows
acute tapering towards south-end. The bathymetry map
shows distinct depth variation of Red Sea basin (Figure
2). Maximum depth, a little less than 3000 meters is in
mid-part of central axial trough of the sea. However, av-
erage depth is about 500 meters.
The coastal shelf may be divided into two zones.
Depth of the shallowest shelf ranges between 50 meters
Figure 2. Customized bathymetry map of Red Sea in rela-
tion to Aden Gulf located in south, the Mediterranean Sea
in the north and the enveloping countries of Red Sea.
and 75 meters that is comparatively very narrow in nor-
thern half of the Sea with respect to southern half. The
depth of deeper shelf may extend down to 500 - 600 me-
ters. In the southern half, the shallow shelf dominantly
widened extending up to Bab-el-Mandeb. Moreover, the
shallow shelf hosts numerous islands and fringing coral
reef zones along coastal areas of the Sea. In general, the
shallowest parts of Red Sea, with a depth of 50 meters,
comprise 25% of its area. Some 40% is moderately shal-
low at depth of 100 meters. Only 15% is considered mo-
derately deep at a depth level of 1000 meters and 20% is
the deeper than 1000 meters.
In north, Red Sea has two closed bifurcated marine
features, i.e., the Aqaba and Suez gulfs. Gulf of Suez is a
shallow submarine body with depth of about 50 meters.
Gulf of Aqaba, by contrast, has depth ranging between
800 meters and 1800 meters. Suez Canal is a manmade
civil structure linking Mediterranean Sea to Red Sea via
Gulf of Sues, which was built in 1869 for modern inter-
national navigation [21], with an overall length of 193
kilometers, a depth of 180 - 205 meters and a width of 21
meters between the buoys.
In south, the width of Red Sea reduces to 30 kilome-
ters at Strait of Bab-El-Mandeb, where Perim Island di-
vides it into two channels in between Yemen and Dji-
bouti. Eastern channel is about 3 kilo meters wide and 30
meters deep, while the western cannel is about 25 kilo-
meters wide and 310 meters deep. In fact, the acute nar-
rowing at the Strait of Bab El-Mandeb poses a handicap
by causing the chocking conditions for the re-flushing of
the highly saline-water of the bottle-neck ed Red Sea ma-
rine body.
4.2. Tectonic Setup
Current tectonic setup of the peninsular landmass is very
complex as simultaneously three tectonic forces, i.e.,
divergent (rifting), convergent (subduction) and shearing
(transform and transcurrent faulting), are together ac-
tively in progress along peripheral areas (Figure 3).
In east, there is an active transform-cum-transcurrent
right lateral fault system, known as “Owen Fracture
Zone” growing and extending from Carlsberg Spreading
Center of Indian Ocean towards the Makran coastal re-
gion of Pakistan passing parallel to Arabian Peninsula
within the western p art of Ar abian Sea. The Makran co as t
was considered to be region of segmented subduction
[22,23]. In northwest, the Peninsula is converging against
the Mediterranean-Tethyan Mobile Belt at the rate of 2.4
millimeters/year [24,25]. Northwestern marg in of the Pe-
ninsula is again subjected to the development of left-
lateral transcurrent-fault system passing through the Gulf
of Aqaba and Dead Sea and linking the Red Sea Rift ba-
sin to the Mediterranean-Tethyan Mob ile belt.
The western margin is typically rifted and modified
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
Figure 3. Map shows the configuration of earth’s surface in
relation to tectonic setup of Arabian Peninsula and its sur-
rounding regions. Image data source: [15].
under the influence of the ongoing divergent tectonic
processes, which cause growth of the Red Sea Rift basin
[26,27]. Similarly, southern margin of Peninsula again is
being deformed and re-modifying by divergent activities
associated with the active Aden Rift. Westward, Aden
Rift makes a triple junction with Red Sea and East Afri-
can Rift that appears to play a major role in faster defor-
mation of southern part of the Red Sea as evident from
the Neotectonic volcanic eruption activities.
Based on Red Sea magnetic anomaly profiles, it has
been estimated that since 3.2 Ma the fastest spreading
rate, about ~16 millimeters/yr, occurs near latitud e 18˚N,
whereas the slowest rate, about ~10 millimeters/year,
occurs at latitude 25.5˚N [28]. From differential spread-
ing rates prevailing acro ss Red Sea, it is inferred that the
coastal areas of Saudi Arabia are under constrain of pull-
apart-cum-shearing forces causing oblique deformation
along the coastal areas that needs to be incorporated in
the planning of the coastal developments.
Moreover, a model was worked out for the rift-asy-
mmetry and contin ental uplift. The model shows that the
eastern sides of most of the earth’s rift zones have higher
elevation of 100 - 300 meters that affects not only the
oceanic lithosphere but also the continents to the east
[29]. Same model is applicable in case of Saudi Arabia
that lies on the east-side of the Red Sea Rift zo ne. Based
on the proposed model, it is inferred that western rifted
coastal belt of Saudi Arabia is accounted for ongoing
vertical as well as horizontal motions causing complex
structural setup.
Based on present tectonic setup of the region, it is in-
ferred that the western and the southern rifts have sepa-
rated Arabian Peninsula from the Afro-Arabian mega-
landmass; and the eastern and northwestern translational
tectonic faulting system collectively moving or drifting
the Peninsular landmass towards northeast causing enor-
mous compression forces on western segments of the
Mediterranean-Tethyan Mobile belt, like Zagros-Thrust-
System as evident from NW-trending shift of the Arabian
continental landmass at an average velocity of 5 centi-
meters/year [30].
In present active tectonic scenario, the re-activation of
pre-existed dormant fault/fracture zone(s) is conceived
that may cause displacement(s) of rock units on varying
scales depending upon several geotectonic parameters and
as such generating micro, macro or mega earthquakes at
any time. These phenomena need continuous monitoring
and evaluation of such re-activations considering the pre-
sence of important civil structures, like the desalination
plants developed along the coastal areas of Red Sea.
4.3. Seismotectonic Setup
For a long time, Arabian Peninsula was generally con-
sidered to be stable continental mass and also as one of
the seismic quiescence parts of the world, but results of
the present study and integrated reviews of the sporadic
studies carried out during the last three decades in dif-
ferent parts of the Peninsula seem to call for a reconsid-
eration of the accepted view [31]. One cannot, in fact,
speak of seismic quiescence any longer, as the geo-tec-
tonic setups of the peripheral areas and associated seis-
micity patterns show actively mobile deformational even t s
under the ongoing varying tectonic processes. Moreover,
it is also inferred that high magnitude disastrous intrapo-
late earthquakes may occur within the stable continental
crust like high magnitude ear thquake of New Madr id and
Rann-Kutch of India [32,33]. In and around Red Sea, the
seismicity activities are mainly controlled by the prevail-
ing dominant tensional force-domain under the diver-
gence processes between the African and Arabian plates.
Thus, such high magnitude earthquake occurrence cannot
be ruled out.
Seismicity in and around Red Sea
The seismic events, recorded in and around Red Sea dur-
ing the last 38 years from 1973 to May 2011 [34] show
that the frequency and intensity of earthquake occur-
rences comparatively is moderately high, but it has also
been observed that the n atural trend of increase in low to
moderate earthquakes’ occurrences more or less is the
same with variation in relative calmness or the temporal
gaps among high magnitude earthquakes (Table 1).
The empirical correlation, between the historical and
modern earthquake occurrences for the periods of 1973-
1983 and 1973-May 2 011 (Figure 4), shows presence of
distinct clustures and/or zones of high seismicity asso-
ciated with Gulf of Aqaba and its intersection with Gulf
of Sues and also with northern end of Red Sea. Similarly,
the southern section of Red Sea also shows a complex
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
Table 1. Summary of the earthquakes oc curred between Lat. 8˚N - 34˚N and Long. 32˚E - 41˚E during periods of 1973-1983,
1984-May 2011 and 1973-May 2011 along Red Sea and its surrounding areas. Data source: NEIC (2010).
Period Total
1 to 3 Magnitude
3.1 to 4 Magnitude
4.1 to 5 Magnitude
5.1 to 6 Magnitude
6.1 to 7 Magnitude
7.1 to 8
1973 to 1983 (Ten Years) 133 7 3 87 35 1 0
1984 to May 2011 (28 Yea rs) 1620 76 323 838 84 5 1
1973 to May 2011 (38 Yea rs) 1753 76 326 925 119 6 1
35˚0'0'E 40˚0'0'E 45˚0'0'E 35˚0'0'E 40˚0'0'E 45˚0'0'E
attern of the earthquake occurrences. Moreover, the oc-
ismicity trend along axis of Red Sea bifurcates
o been sup-
4.4. Volcanic Activities in Red Sea
row pointing to
tivation of volcanic eruptions has been
e other hand, a series of volcanoes has been re-
rted by salient sporadic studies that were carried out
during the last three decades in different parts of the pe-
ninsula [36-41]. Moreovre, the seismicity activities have
significantly extended landward within Saudi Arabia,
which also indicates reactivation of pre-existed faults of
the Arabian Shield.
General shape of Red Sea is like an ar
western end of Aden Gulf. Each component of Red Sea
geometry (i.e., width, shelf, shelf-slope, width & depth of
axial trough etc.) is teppering southward to Perim island
at Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb (Figure 2). It is interesting to
observe that the teppred end is the only opening for Red
Sea to link with Indian Ocean via Gulf of Aden whereas
northern end has two closed narrow and smaller gulfs,
i.e., Suez and Aqaba, before it may have linked with Me-
ditranean Sea.
Modern reac
Figure 4. Comparative plots of earthquake
along Red Sea and its surrounding areas from 1973 to 1983
(a: left frame) and from 1973 to May 2011 (b: right frame).
served on either ends of the Red Sea. In northern sec-
tion, vigorous seis micity occurred associated with the on-
land Lunayyir Volcano within coastal belt, where nine-
teen earthquakes of magnitude ranging between 4 and 5.4
and a swamp of more than 30,000 micro-earthquakes oc-
curred in 2009 [42]. There was no eruption of lava, ex-
cept a long fissure observed on the ground with escap-
ing of gasses. Apparently, so far no prominent volcanic
activity has been reported in this part of Red Sea axial
On th
currence frequancy of modern seismic events has in-
creased about ten-times in comparison to historical earth-
The se
to two distinct south-trending branches near latitude
17˚N. One branch extends southeast along axial trough of
Red Sea and the other branch strikes SSW and joins
another two earthquake zones, one that comprises of
northern earthquakes of East African Rift System, and
the other one that continues eastward to Gulf of Aden.
Two seismicity zones originating from latitude 17˚N in
Red Sea and the seismicity zone west of Gulf of Tad-
jurah in south of Bab-el-Mandeb, together surround a re-
lativley aseismic area that may represent a subaerial
microplate [35]. Likewise, the exial part of the Red Sea
rift, between latitudes 20˚N and 17˚N also shows signifi-
cant increase in seismicity activities in relatively wider
zone as compared to northern part of Red Sea between
25.5˚N and 20˚N latitudes. It is inferred that the complex
seismicity trends associated with triple junction of three
rifts and volcanic activities may create disastrerous con-
ditions for the only narrow outlet at Bab-el-Mandeb re-
sulting partial or total closer of Red Sea.
The inferences drawn presently have als
rted occurring within axial trough in southern part of
Red Sea from latitude 16˚N to 12˚N in addition to on-
land volcanism on either side at the southern most end of
Red Sea. The most significant tectonic setup within the
teppered part of the Sea is the existance of a most active
triple junction of three rifts, namely Red Sea Rift, East
Afirican Rift and Aden Rift. Among these rifts, East
African Rift is the most hazardous and more active one.
The ongoing tectonic processes have caused prominent
volcanic activities since Neogene era in and around the
gateway of Red Sea. As a result of volcanogeneic events,
a number of islands have appeared in the area. This has a
significant impact on the geometry of the sourthern most
part of Red Sea. The impact of activ e vo lcanism seems to
cause more enhansment of high salinity by blocking out-
flow as well as inflow of seawater between Red Sea and
Aden Gulf.
At Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, there is a volcanic island,
n of Tahir volcano occurred on Sep-
rim, with a surface area of 13 km2 rising to an altitude
of 65 meters. It bifucates the narrowest width of Red Sea.
It has been reported that the Perim volcanic eruptions had
blocked Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb sometime in the geo-
logical history and consequently Red Sea evaporated to
an empty hot dry salt-floored sink [43]. About 356 kilo-
meters north of Perim volcanic island, there is another
tiny volcanic island, known as Jabal Al-Tahir Island at
latitude 15.5˚N and longitude: 41.83˚E (Figure 5). Vol-
cogenically, the region between Perim and Tahir volca-
nic islands is currently active along southern part of Red
The latest eruptio
mber 30, 2007. Enormous lava oozed out over its flanks,
releasing a dense white cloud of volcanic ash (Figure 5).
It was reported that several earthquakes ranging from 2.0
- 3.6 magnitudes occurred for about two weeks near the
island [44], but no earthquake of higher magnitude was
reported in the vicinity of At-Tahir Island during pre or
post-eruptin g period from Augu st to October 2007 as per
record of USGS/NEIC. However, four earthquakes, rang-
ing of 4.2 - 4.8 magnitudes, were recorded during period
from 1994 to 1997 in the vicinity of 25 kilometers radius
according to the USGS/NEIC catalog. The historical re-
cord shows that there have been several previous known
eruptions of the volcano including a possible one in 14th,
18th and 19th centuries. The last major eruption was in
1833 [45]. It has been inferred that the latest eruption is
Figure 5. ASTER satellite image, acquired on October 8,
island, where explosive
and, th er e
islands and Pe-
2007, shows eruption of At-Tair volcano, its lava flowing
down its flanks and releasing a jet of volcanic ash cloud
after 8 days of volcanic activity. Source:
a continuation of activity on the
eruptions were recorded in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. At-Tahir Island is the northern most known
Holocene volcano in southern part of Red Sea.
In contrast to single tiny At-Tah ir volcanic isl
a larger group of 10 small islands, aligned in the
NNW-SSE direction parallel to Red Sea, spreading over
5 kilometers long area that rises from a shallow platform
in the rifting trough. The largest island is Jebel Zubair
Island, which is a shield volcano at latitude of 15.05˚ and
longitude of 42.17˚. This volcano, located about 66 kilo-
meters south of At-Tahir volcano, was erupted in 1824.
Eruptions similar to the late-stage explos ive and effusive
activities were also reported in 19th century associated
with other three islan ds of the Zubair islands’ group. They
are located SW and NW of the main Zubair Island and a
small island at the upper left (Figure 6).
In between Zubair Group of volcanic
volcanic island at 150 kilometers from either sides,
there is a belt of volcanic islands, known as Zukur-Han-
nish group of volcanic islands, aligned in northeast-
southwest direction that is a unique and anomalous ori-
entation obliquely across the axial trough of Red Sea
Figure 6. Map shows the relative locations of the groups of
active volcanic islands aligned parallel and as well obliquely
across the axial trough of southern Red Sea. Sources: ESRI,
Google Earth, NASA Earth Observatory.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
(Figure 6). This group consists of many islands of vary-
o) volcano, in
ently, a new surtseyan volcanic eruption oc-
active volcanic
ing sizes from tiny to large aerial d imensions. Zukur and
Hannish, are the larger ones. The bathymetry data show
anomalous rise striking in NE-SW direction across the
general orientation of Red Sea basin. It appears that the
alignment of this volcanic zone coincides with the align-
ment of East African Rift as is evident from the latest
eruptions of Na br o V ol can o i n 20 1 1 [4 6] .
On 12th June 2011, the Anabro (Nabr
Figure 8. Emergence of new island at Az-Zubair archipe
ause significant tectonic deformations in response to
4.5. Geotectonic Processes Causing High Salinity
Worldwidity of the seawater averages about
ain factors, contributing high salinity of sea-
rthern part of Eritrea at latitude 13.37˚N and longitude
41.70˚E, re-erupted within tectonically active Afar Tri-
angle along the western coast of Red Sea. MODIS image
(Figure 7) acquired by NASA Aqua-satellite captured
the jetting out ash-plume more than 15 km into the sky
[47]. During eruption process, sixteen earthquakes of mo-
derate magnitude, ranging from 4.3 M to 5.5 M, were oc-
curred in a radial pattern around the volcano [48]. Nabro
volcano is part of East African rift complex that has sev-
eral nested calderas [49]. In this part, the African conti-
nent is slowly pulling apart due to tectonic plate move-
ments in conjunction with Red Sea and Aden rifts caus-
ing complex tectonic/geomorphical changes along the
Most rec
rred on December 19, 2011, at Az-Zubair archipelago.
Exploding-lava eruption has been reported rising to a
height of 30 meters [50]. MODIS image of 23-December-
2011, showed a dense plume rising from a shallow sub-
marine horizon. The current activities in Red Sea com-
prised of more than an eruption, because successive emer-
gence of new island is also observed comparing different
temporal images (Figure 8) of 7-January-2012, 23-De-
cember-2011 and October-2007 [51,52].
The study shows that recent potentially
land areas in southern part of Red Sea are the Jebel At-
Tair, Zubair Islands, Hannish-Zukur islands, Perim vol-
canic island and Dubbi- Nabro volcanic g roup o f nor thern
Afar rift-zone. Based on volcanic-trends, it is inferred
that the eruptive activities initiated at southern end may
Figure 7. Satellite image shows the eruption of the Anabro
(Nabro) volcano on June 12, 2011, along the western coast
of the Red Sea. Source: [47].
ago in the axial part of Red Sea can be seen on larger scale
on image (right) captured by NASA’s EO-1 satellite on
January 7, 2012 as compared to minor scale on December
23, 2011 (Center) in relation with image (left) captured on
October 24, 2007, which does not show any break in Red
Sea water indicating any kind of emergence. Source: [51,
anticlockwise rotation of Arabia Peninsula relative to
Africa and, as an eventual consequence, Red Sea axial
trough may die out southwards owing to tectonically de-
formed structures and the volcanic fills from the poten tial
volcanic hot-spots as described above. Such a situation
indicates drastic suffocation and stagnancy of seawater in
in Red Sea
e, the salin
35‰, but Red Sea is among the hottest and most saline
seawaters in the world with surface seawater temperature
of more than 30˚C in summer and about 40‰ average
salinity that varies from north (~46‰) to south (~38‰)
The m
ater in Red Sea, have been described as high rate of
evaporation and low precipitation under arid harsh cli-
mate, no permanent inflowing coastal rivers or streams,
partially isolation of Red Sea from the open ocean and
other miscellaneous land-based urbanizational and in-
dustrial activities in the Red Sea coastal cities [53-61].
No doubt, these inferences may be some of the common
factors for increase of salinity, but during the present
study, for the first time, the presence of naturally generat-
ing enormus hot brines and perculation of the avapotires
are taken into the consideration. It seems to be the per-
manent renewable source to abnormaly high salinity to
Red Sea. As these major renewable sources, enhancing
high seawater salinity in Red Sea, were not considered
during previous studies in relation to seawater desalina-
tion. Some of the archieve studies have been reviewed
related to the geotectonic renewable-sources and their
findings incorpor ated in the present study.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
Three separate pools of hot brine were identified along
fic studies of buried hydrothermal sys-
ial trough of Red Sea based on bathymetric and geo-
physical investigations [62]. Similarly, the most promi-
nent hydro-geothermal activities were investigated in At-
lantis-II Deep about 100 kilometers in west of the Jeddah
coast [63]. From mid-1960 to late-1990, more than 20
geomorphological depressions filled with highly concen-
trated brines were identified in central rift zone of Red
Sea [64]. These interpreted brine-pools consist of four
convective layers, among them the lower convective layer
was inferred to be the hottest and the saltiest brine.
Results of the Red Sea deep-drilling exp loration rev
e presence of hot-brine layers underlain by metallifer-
ous system [65,66]. The periodic discharges of hot-brine
were described from eastern side of the largest and deep-
est part of the trough [62]. But integrated model (Figure
9) based on models of [67,68], shows consistent percola-
tion of hot dense brine from eastern as well as western
sides of the deepest parts of the axial trough.
It was also inferred that there is a forced
ll where salts precipitate and accumulate immediately
above the magma chamber located beneath axis of the
rift [69], and as such, hydrothermal “out-salting” is the
main cause of dense, warm brines accumulating in cen-
tral portion of Red Sea (Figure 9). Moreover, the hot
“geysers” of saturated brines have also been iden tified in
Atlantis-II Deep of Red Sea and inferred as originating
from re-dissolution of salts accumulated in underground
fracture systems.
Numerous speci
ms have conclusively shown that seawater circulates
deep into sedimentary formations and also underlying
oceanic crust. It is also observed that the seawater inter-
acts with another geochemical reservoir, like in the case
of Miocene evaporites underlying within the entire length
of Red Sea [70]. The proposed model elucidates that sea-
Figure 9. Schematic models show the c onsiste ntly renew a ble
seafloor is 70˚C, and at magma chamber 1100˚C.
tions for Re-Flushing of Highly Saline
The ed Sea has no direct natural link to
major salt-contributors to Red Sea; (a) Shows the detailed
view of flanking recharge trends as a result of normal sea-
water reaction with subsurface Red Sea Miocene evaporites
(after Manheim, 2007); (b) Shows updated conceptual mo-
del [69] based on inferred conditions by [85,86]. Le gend (b):
Rc = Recharge zones, Rf = Reflux zone. The broken lines
are isotherms at 130˚C, 400˚C, and 800˚C. Temperature at
water of normal salinity penetrates into subsurface and
circulates downward through evaporites, where it be-
comes strongly enriched in salt. The fluid moves hori-
zontally along fissures through the newly formed oceanic
crust and interacts with the young basalts.
Based on above mentioned studies, three renewable
zones of the Red Sea trough sub-seabed system have been
anticipated to possess the potential for being meganatural
salt-contributors. First, there are warm brine-pools on sea-
floor at the deeper bottom parts of axial-rift-trough where
salt precipitates due to cooling at 70˚C. Second, salt-rich
contributor represents the central reflex at the rifting
where salt precipitates due to boiling. Third, one of the
major contributors of salt-enrichment are the flanking re-
charge zones, in which normal seawater reacts with sub-
surface Miocene evaporites underlying the entire length
of Red Sea.
4.6. Limita
Red Seawater
northern end of R
Mediterranean or any other sea except the manmade Sues
Canal. The narrow basin of Red Sea has just one tenuous
indirect link to the Indian Ocean through Aden Gulf via
Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb. The narrowest cross-section of
Red Sea is 32 kilometers wide in vicinity o f Perim Island
(Figure 10). But in north of Perim Island, the passage of
the sea, particularly the relative deep channel, is de-
formed by the presence of northeast-southwest trending
series of islands, known as “Hannish Islands”, across ax-
ial trough of Red Sea in between Eritrea and Yemen. The
bathymetry data also show rising-trend of the deep
channel of Red Sea on northern and southern sides of the
Figure 10. Group of Hannish i slands aligne d obliquely a c ro s s
the southern shallow part of the Red Sea axial trough shows
the anomalous up-rising trend and deforming of the deep-
channel of the trough. Source: Google Earth.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
Hannish islands’ complex as shown by “arrows”. The up-
rising tectonic interference may have caused significant
chocking for both interactive outflow and inflow of sur-
face seawater in general and the deep seawater in par-
ticular between Red Sea and Aden Gulf. It was observed
that the shallowest projection over which the deep water
must pass is at a depth of 137 meters in west of main
Hannish Island situated about 150 kilometers NNW of
Perim [71]. In the southern part, however, relatively
deeper Red Sea channel shows a triangular shaped br aded
channel about 12 kilometers wide flanked by broad shel-
ves with ave rage dept h of 50 kilometers on either sides .
The prevailing submarine geomorphic features and
geotectonic uprising indicate the restricted interactive
high salinity water outflow of Red Sea to Aden Gulf and
the low salinity water inflow of Aden Gulf to Red Sea.
Moreover, seasonal variability of flow across Bab-el-
Mandeb was also observed as a result of onset of peri-
odic monsoon climate [71]. During winter season, the
warmer, fresher water flows into Red Sea in upper sur-
face layer and the cooler, saltier water flows into Aden
Gulf in lower layer. But in summer, the exchange-condi-
tions become hazardous through Bab-el-Mandeb as the
high salinity outflow is nearly arrested, the flow in sur-
face layer is reversed, and the intermediate water from
Aden Gulf flows into Red Sea between the two outflow-
ing layers.
5. Anthropogenic Hazards
erous adverse activi-
impact on the future
oned an-
ed Sea, the statistical data of Jeddah
its offshore waters.
Like natural hazards, there are num
ties those may cause degradational
sustainability of water-supply from the seawater-desa-
lination facilities directly and/or indirectly with passage
of time and/or within unpredictable sudden shorter time-
span depending on the specific nature of the individual
threat. The salient anthropogenic such threats, encoun-
tering in Red Sea, may include 1) accidental oil spills, 2)
international conflicts, 3) heavy shipping traffic causing
quality deterioration of marine waters, 4) accidental and/
or sabotage activities causing uncalled for sudden and
huge damages to desalinated-water supply network, 5)
terrorist activities, 6) ever-increasing contribution of enor-
mous brine discharges from the world’s largest networks
of the desalination p lants, 7) thermal pollution due to d is-
charge of hot-water that being used for cooling of certain
parts of the huge industrial machines, 8) discharges of
untreated and/or partially treated municipal and industrial
wastes, 9) emergency maintenances replacement of da-
maged pipelines of water-supply network systems, 10)
recurrent increase in required energy, and costs for de-
salinated water-production and maintenan ce of the plants
against the desalinatio n of anticipated h ighly deteriorated
seawater in near future, 11) total dependency on the out-
sourced desalination techno logy in the country.
In the last two decades, numerous research studies
have been carried out in regards to above menti
ropogenic activities cau sing adverse environmental im-
pact on the Red Sea water, its biodiversitified echo-sys-
tems and operational activities of the desalination plants
In relation to the brine discharges from the desalina-
tion plants along R
salination plant is taken in to consideration as an ex am-
ple. During 2011, the total inlet-flow has been estimated
6800 m3/hour (60 million m3/year) and out of this intake
the production flow-rate was 2720 m3/hour (24 million
m3/year) and rejected flow-rate of brine was recorded
4080 m3/hour or 36 million m3/year (M. Ettwadi, Per-
sonal Communication, December 2011). The production
and rejected flow rate are 35% and 65% of the total
inlet-flow. Based on the equation, i.e., total inlet-flow =
production-flow + rejected-flow, the rejected concen-
trated brine discharging from all the plants, commis-
sioned along the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia, has been esti-
mated to the tune of about 3002.5 million m3/year by
using the total produ ction-flow of 3.29 million m3/day or
1201 million m3/year. These statistics of concentrated
brine-discharges indicate that the major part of concen-
trated saline water is being discharged back into the sea.
The concentration of the desalination brines is normally
around double that of natural seawater. In case of Red
Sea, the salinity increase of about 0.22 g/L in 1996, 0.49
g/L in 2008 and 1.16 g/L by the year 2025 were esti-
mated as consequence of brine discharge from desalina-
tion [12]. The fact should not be ignored in this scenario
that Red Sea is already the most salty body among other
marginal seas of the world. It is inferred that the salinity
will further significantly be increased in Red Sea in gen-
eral and particularly where the rejected brines are being
discharged. Thus, as a result, irreversible seawater deg-
radation is anticipated cau sing damage to the aquatic life
and the consequent hazardous conditions to desalinating
processes. The resulted environmental scenario will ul-
timately increase the cost of maintenance of the desalina-
tion plants and the socio-economic crises to fishing in-
dustry and other related disciplines.
Likewise, Red Sea is also suffering from oil pollution
along most of its coast as well as in
n important marine transport route between Europe and
the Far East passes through the Red Sea particularly for
the carriage of oil and other commodities. Most o il spills
in this region have been the result of operational dis-
charges, equipment failure and groundings. Despite the
low occurrence of major accidents within the region, the
high volume of shipping results in chronic pollution in
the form of tarballs arriving on the shorelines [83]. The
coast of Saudi Arabia between Jeddah and Yemen is
heavily tarred at places. The Egyptian coast near offshore
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
oil fields of Gulf of Suez is similarly affected by oil dis-
charges. For example, the latest oil spill has occurred in
Red Sea during June-2010, which was considered to be
the largest offshore spill in Egyptian history. The spill
polluted arou nd 100 kilometers of coastline du e to a leak-
age from an offshore oil platform at Jebel al-Zayt north
of Hurghada [84].
The impacts of the long & short terms or the sudden
occurring anthropogenic threats, identified during the
two decades, the investor and policy
ng on the development of desalination
lt from the seawater to produce
of these problems,
r the supply of potable water
in its southern and northern parts, ex-
significant geotectonic activities re-
lso intensify in the time to come and expect-
esent study, need to be considered integrating with the
natural hazardous events for developing a model of sus-
tainable water management system. Unless, a balance in
the priority among differen t disciplines of water res ou rc es
is not maintained, the sustainable establishment of effec-
tive and better interactive water-supply network is not
anticipated for future. Thus, the alternate strategic water
management plans are imperative parallel to the fast de-
velopment of seawater desalination options in the coun-
6. D
During about last
makers are focusi
technologies, especially in arid and semiarid areas of
Middle East that have rich-economic conditions and the
technology developing sector advocating the interest in
desalination technologies. Looking at the present trend
for water supply from seawater against the development
of other on-land traditional resources, a question arises
whether the desalination technologies are the answer to
the world water crises.
It looks very simple that “desalination” involves the
process of removing sa
inkable water, but the case is not so simple from pre-
sent study. The construction, operation and maintenance
costs of seawater desalination are at many folds expen-
sive as compared to tradition al sources. In addition to the
high costs, the technologies are not environmental fri-
endly. The removing salt from seawater produces enor-
mous brine concentrates with several toxic contaminants
too, which have affected marine life when dumped back
into the sea causing irreversible damage to the marine
eco-system. There are other several demerits of desalina-
tion related to human health, consumption of enormous
fossil fuel and/or energy from other sources, causing ther-
mal pollution to seawater, and emitting green house
gases contributing to global warning.
Though, innovations in desalination technologies do
offer some promise to minimize some
t the impacts of the natural and the anthropogenic haz-
ards cannot be ruled out as the geo-environmental ongo-
ing-processes, identified during the study, indicate the
vulnerability regarding th e strategic developments, inclu-
sive of huge desalination plants, in the coastal areas of
Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea. Some of the natural as
well as anthropogenic threats may cause sudden disas-
trous environments to the desalination facilities and/or
some other may cause slow and steady damages to the
presently prevailing conducive environments of the sea-
water desalination options.
In turn, it is anticipated that absolute dependency on
the seawater desalination fo
ay not be adequate without the parallel development of
the land-based “strategic water management plan” on the
equal priority. In this connection, some of the alternate
options for the sustain able availab ility o f po table water in
the areas/cities along the coastal belt of Red Sea are also
imperative to be equally considered parallel to the de-
velopment of seawater desalination in Saudi Arabia. The
proposed management efforts should include the strate-
gic groundwater exploration & development program as
the western coastal belt of Saudi Arabia along Red Sea
has numerous “wadi drainage-systems” running across
the rifted margin of the Arabian Shield and showing
bright prospects of groundwater in fault/fracture zones, a
standby “water supply mixed with groundwater system”
or the “supplementary brackish water supply” should be
made readily available to provide the urban areas with
drinking water in emergency situations, the adoption of
conservation methodologies in water-use national plan,
the development of strategic large water harvesting &
storage structures, the inter-linkage of desalination plants,
and the continuation of detailed studies in and around the
coastal and eastern Shield areas.
7. Conclusions
Red Sea, especially
posed to relatively
lated to the seismicity, volcanism, and differential move-
ments of Arabian Plate under the Red Sea-floor-spread-
ing processes deforming geomorphologic geometry of
the coastline and submarine configuration gradually and
under some geologic phenomena sudden at any time in
the future.
Moreover, the increase in the salinity of the Red Sea
water will a
ly will cause the further deterioration of the seawater
quality, in turn which will affect directly or indirectly the
operational activities of the desalination plants.
Manifestations of geo-hazards trends suggest that our
arid region has already entered in a period of
odynamic disturbances an d manmade multidisciplin ary
odd & non-environmental-friendly developments under
internal as well as the global crossed-interests. The haz-
ards arising from such developments should not be ig-
nored, especially in regard to the desalination plants and
the uninterrupted water supply from them.
In view of the natural & anthropogenic hazards, posed
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
to stability of Red Sea environment and basic condition
ity in case of an y emergency,
o Prof. Abdulrehman Obaid
r Educational Affairs, Prof
[1] Preussag, “Co Arabia,” 2011.
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supply policy is likely to safeguard the minimum needs
of population, which has pr esently and will b e increasing
exponentially in long term.
Disaster preparedness options, envisaged to restore
water supply to the co mmun
ould be given equal priority as presently practicing in
the case of the accelerated development of desalination
8. Acknow
Authors are highly thankful t
Al-Youbi, Vice President fo
Adnan Zahid, Vice President, Higher Education & Re-
search, and Prof. Yousef Al-Turky, Dean of Scientific
Research, King Abdulaziz University, for their complete
support for the smooth execution of the research study.
Special thanks are paid to King Abdulaziz City for Sci-
ence & Technology (KACST) to provide financial sup-
port (Grant # 8-WAT 140-3) for the project work. Au-
thors are grateful to American Geophysical Union (AGU)
to provide an opportunity to present the results of re-
search as Poster-NH31A-1526 in AGU 2011 Fall Meet-
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