Geochemical constraints on the provenance and depositional environment of the Messinian sediments, onshore Nile Delta, Egypt: Implications for the late Miocene paleogeography of the Mediterranean

Mahmoud Leila, Andrea Moscariello, Branimir Šegvić

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The Messinian sequence rocks in the Nile Delta present prolific hydrocarbon reservoirs and are, therefore, of great importance from the aspect of petroleum exploration and development strategies. Yet, little is known about their tectonic provenance and depositional setting. This study focuses on the geochemical signatures archived in the Messinian siliciclastic sediments to employ them as a powerful tool to elucidate the basin evolution during the Messinian salinity crisis (MSC). The pre-MSC Qawasim sediments are texturally and compositionally immature. They are enriched in lithic fragments, foraminiferal bioclasts, and rounded heavy minerals suggesting a significant contribution from the pre-existing Cretaceous-Eocene mixed carbonate-siliciclastic rocks bordering the Nile Delta. In contrast, the textural and mineralogical compositions as well as a range of geochemical proxies (e.g., chemical index of alteration and weathering CIA, CIW as well as index of chemical variability ICV and Zr/Sc ratio) are in favor of prolonged weathering and at least second-cycle origin of the MSC Abu Madi sediments. The mutually correspondent elemental ratios (e.g., Al2O3/TiO2, K2O/Na2O, Zr/Hf, Rb/Sr, Cr/Zr, and Cr/Th) and uniform weathering trends are indicatives for a similar provenance of the pre-MSC Qawasim and MSC Abu Madi sediments. Rare earth element (REE) distribution reveals a significant enrichment in LREE, depletion in HREE, relatively high (La/Yb)N (mean > 9), low (Gd/Yb)N (mean < 2) and a pronounced negative Eu anomaly (mean∼0.75) in the studied Messinian facies, characteristics of upper continental sources of mainly felsic to intermediate rock affiliations. Provenance proxy ratios (e.g., Al/Ti, La/Sc, Th/Sc, La/Co and Eu/Eu*) along with the low concentration of transition trace elements (Cr, Ni, Co, Ni) are effectively ruling out the contribution from mafic and ultramafic rocks. The investigated Messinian sedimentary facies have similar passive margin geotectonic setting and their source rocks were originated in a continental collision tectonic setting that lasted from Late Cretaceous to Oligo-Miocene time. This is confirmed by the Nb/Ta, Zr/Sm ratios coupled with the pronounced Nb, Ta, P, Ti anomalies and enrichments in Pb and U relative to primitive mantle typical of subduction zone environment. The petrographical and geochemical results suggest the MSC Abu Madi sediments to have been eroded and recycled from the older pre-MSC Qawasim sediments by gravity-flow processes and fluvial channels prior to redeposition as incised-valley-fills during the late stage of the MSC. The geochemical paleoenvironmental indicators such as C-value, Sr/Cu and Sr/Ba confirm arid-dry climatic conditions during the onset of the MSC consistent with the Mediterranean desiccation. These indicators also depict a transition from freshwater to relatively normal salinity conditions during the late stage of the MSC. Geochemical results presented in this study support the retrogradational depositional infill of the Messinian incised valleys in the Nile Delta, thus confirming an incipient rise in the Mediterranean Sea level prior to the major Zanclean flooding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-241
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of African Earth Sciences
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Abu Madi
  • Geochemistry
  • Messinian
  • Nile Delta
  • Qawasim


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