International conference discusses prospects of geo-tourism

Zuhair Nawab

Saudi Gazette report

— A four-day international geoscience conference concluded here on Wednesday. The conference aimed to promote knowledge and cooperation in earth sciences across the Arab region. It also aims to facilitate research in emerging fields, to build strong links between academia, industry and geo-archeological tourism.

The conference, which was jointly organized by the Saudi Geological Survey and the Saudi Society of Geosciences, was attended by geoscientists and experts from many Arab and foreign countries.

The conference included oral and poster presentations, panel discussions, and special lectures. An exhibition featuring local and international companies and institutions provided an opportunity to showcase the latest developments, activities and products and to engage in future collaborations.

Speakers focused on the geology of the Arabian plate, formation, tectonics and structure; sedimentary basins and petroleum systems; geography and seismology from imaging to interpretation; mineral resource and mining geology from exploration to exploitation; and environmental and engineering geology.

The Arabian Plate comprises the western Arabian Shield, the eastern Arabian Platform, and Cenozoic rocks in the Red Sea basin, and is surrounded by different plate-boundary zones: the left-lateral Dead Sea transform and the divergent Red Sea rift in the west, the complex convergent boundary with the Eurasian and Anatolian plate in the north-northeast, the Owen Fracture Zone of the Indian Plate in the east, and the Somali Plate in the south.

The conference saw presentations that connect the tectonics and structure of the Arabian Plate to geological hazards, the presence of mineral-rich and other economically relevant rocks, as well as the formation and occurrence of oil and gas reservoirs.

"The margins of the Arabian Plate have petroleum prone basins of very diverse origin, and are therefore ideal for the study of the broader aspects of sedimentary basin analysis,” said Zuhair Nawab, SGS president and chairman of the steering committee of the conference.

The most prolific eastern margin is characterized by sediments originally deposited on a passive shelf margin and dominated by source rocks in epi-cratonic basins, both carbonate and clastic reservoirs and evaporitic-clastic seals of Paleozoic and Mesozic age.

The south-eastern margin is structurally complex with source-rocks and reservoirs spanning in time from the Pre-Cambrium to the Mesozoic and reservoirs composed of Precambrian carbonate/evaporate sequences, Paleozoic siliciclastics and Mesozoic carbonates. The western margin of Arabia is characterized by tertiary rift basins filled with clastics, carbonates and evaporates.

Referring to the second session, Nawab said papers were presented on the origins of petroleum systems, their tectonic and sedimentary settings, the source of rock distribution and hydrocarbon migration as well as exploration and production issues.

Geophysical imaging, using seismic data (earthquake and controlled source) and potential-field data (gravity, magnetic and electromagnetic, geo-electric), holds the key to unravel the structure and constitution of the Earth's interior across all scales.

Research papers focused on the use of modern inversion/imaging techniques to illuminate the structure of the Arabian Plate at the plate-scale, regional-scale, and/or local-scale.

Speaking about another important session on industrial minerals, Nawab said: "Industrial minerals play an important role in the development of a country as they are directly or indirectly related to the construction and manufacturing sectors.”

Industrial minerals are used as raw materials in a number of vital commercial applications such as cement, ceramics, glass, paints, plastics, rubbers, adhesives, sealants, food, and for pharmaceutical or healthcare products, he explained.

Saudi Arabia has abundant resources of industrial minerals such as limestone, dolomite, gypsum, silica sand, quartz, magnetite, phosphate, bauxite, feldspar, ornamental stones, or basalt. In addition, the Arabian Shield is favorable for metallic mineralization due to its geologic history, and hosts a range of base-metal (Cu-Pb-Zn), gold, rare-earth and other metallic-mineral deposits.

Another session dealt with oceanography, geology and geophysics, environmental studies, marine ecosystem including the exotic corals, flora and fauna, hydro-chemical properties of water, geo-biological studies in coastal paleo-environment, geomorphological dynamics, sea level and shorelines changes, islands and shoals, tectonic evolution of the coastal areas.

Geo-tourism is emerging as a new type of tourism, and one session was devoted to this topic in view of the recent interest in geo-tourism in Saudi Arabia and worldwide, Nawab said.

The session discussed geo-tourism as an emerging academic discipline with immediate societal, educational, and economic applications. In addition to geo-tourism, the session discussed submerged landscapes to assess areas with the potential for human occupation, and to identify the possibility for preservation of archaeological material in the Red Sea.

Other major topics dealt by the conferees were: Remote sensing and GIS; geohazards of Arabia, mapping, quantification and mitigation; unlocking geothermal potential of Arabia from mapping to development; and coastal and marine environments of the Red Sea.