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Holocene stromatolites and microbial laminites associated with lenticular gypsum in a marine-dominated environment, Ras El Shetan area, Gulf of Aqaba, Egypt



Field and petrographic investigations of Holocene evaporites in the Ras El Shetan area, Gulf of Aqaba, Egypt, indicate the presence of microbial mats either in the form of laminites or stromatolites. The morphology of microbial mats and gypsum crystal size characterize the following lithofacies: (1) slump-stromatolitic gypsarenite, (2) random gypsrudite, (3) stromatolitic gypsarenite, and (4) microbially laminated gypsrudite. These evaporite lithofacies are formed above pre-evaporitic mudstones rich in disrupted cyanobacterial filaments, burrows and cerithid gastropods. The morphology of the gypsum crystals is mainly lenticular, indicating enrichment of dissolved organic compounds in the depositional environment. The difference in size of the lenticular gypsum crystals is related to minor changes in salinity and temperature of the parent brine. Fluid inclusions in gypsum crystals indicate their formation at low temperature (<50°C) in a seawater sourced brine that evaporated to gypsum saturation or higher. The brine salinities range from 10·62 to 12·99 equivalent wt% NaCl, and the brine densities range from 1·08 to 1·11 g/cm3. The change in morphology of the microbial mats (stromatolites and laminites) is related mainly to changes in water depth, from a very shallow salina to a coastal sabkha. Lenticular gypsum nucleated displacively in the microbial mats from saline, oxygenated groundwater that seeped from the sea through a barrier.