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The regular earth tremors felt by people living around the Red Sea are the "birthing pains of Earth's newest ocean – the ocean that the Red Sea will eventually grow up to become", Australian tectonics specialist at Australia's Monash University Associate Professor Peter Betts, says.
The sea is young in geological terms – just 24 million years old – and is the one place on the planet where a new ocean plate is still forming, as the African and the Arabian continental plates move away from one another until they eventually split.
Betts says one cell in the southern Red Sea region has been active for several million years. "However, the increase in seismic activity in the region indicates that a second, more central cell is now awakening," he says. "In the past 10 years, dyking [magma emplacement] indicates where the new cell is activating."
This dyking is a build-up of magma that precedes the splitting of the Earth's mantle to form a new ocean ridge from which the magma will flow to form ocean crust. Dr Almalki says this could happen any time: next week or in thousands of years. His data analysis and modelling have also identified another one or possibly two "embryo" cells further north of the one awakening.