Earthquakes along the Dead Sea Rift may cause tsunamis threatening the coasts of the Gulf of Eilat-Aqaba

Photo of the Dead Sea Rift showing the Sinai Peninsula at the left and the Gulf of Eilat-Aqaba in the center. In the prolongation of the Gulf follows the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley. The photo was taken by astronauts on board Space Shuttle Columbia in July 2016. Source: Nasa / <a href=""target="_blank">Wikimedia Commons</a>

In 1995 such a tremor had happened with waves of 3 to 4 m height causing damage to Nuweiba harbor and to local nomad dwellings

In 1995, an earthquake took place along the Dead Sea Rift (Dead Sea Transform), the fault system that runs from southeastern Turkey to the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula and further south through Africa. It was well registered and is well remembered, but little was noticed of a tsunami it caused, although the ocean wave reached its greatest height of 3 to 4 meters at the Nuweiba harbor.

It caused minor damage to local nomad dwellings along the coast and to the Aqaba Port.

A team of scientists led by Amos Salamon of the Geological Survey of Israel says that the authorities at the Gulf of Elat-Aqaba, at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea, should prepare for future tsunami hazards in the economically developing vital region. It’s 4 countries that border the gulf: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel.

„We have already learned that earthquakes along the fault system have the potential to generate tsunamis in the Eastern Mediterranean through seismogenic submarine landslides, but now we realize that it is also capable of generating tsunamis in the gulf by co-seismic deformation as well as by submarine landslides,” Salamon said.

One of the most important pieces of information from the Nuweiba earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2, which allowed the researchers to perform their simulations, was a 1995 mareogram, or tidal gauge reading, that Salamon’s student Eran Frucht discovered. These data gave them a way to judge the accuracy of their simulations. The researchers concluded, for instance, that the peak 3- to 4-meter wave height in Nuweiba Harbor may have been a local phenomenon affected by the shape of the harbor or by a nearby underwater landslide.

Salamon and his colleagues now are conducting a larger scale earthquake and tsunami hazard evaluation for the entire Gulf of the Eilat-Aqaba region. The evaluation is particularly important because there are few historical records in the area on past tsunami size and frequency, to guide future estimates.

The worst-case scenario, said Salamon, would be an earthquake on a fault that crosses from the land into the gulf, which could produce severe ground shaking in the surrounding cities, submarine landslides and subsidence of the coastline that amplifies inundation from a tsunami.

Salamon said that the hazard evaluation would give scientists in all four countries surrounding the gulf a better understanding of whether to expect this worst-case scenario. „We thought that if we do this kind of research, it would be relevant for our neighbors as well.“

Study published in the Seismological Research Letters

(23.06.2019, USA: 06.23.2019)