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Ancient seabed uncovered in Sudan

A Sudanese geological team has discovered an ancient marine sedimentary formation more than 500 million years old.
The image shows the oldest sedimentary formation in Sudan.

CAIRO — A team of Sudanese geologists from the Regional Geology Department of the Sudanese General Department of Geological Surveys at the General Organization for Geological Research recently unearthed a marine sedimentary formation in Sudan dating to the Cambrian period. They have named it the Al Barda and Abu Talih formation.

The General Organization for Geological Research explained in a statement published on its Facebook page on Sept. 28 that “the age of the sedimentary formation has been determined thanks to a fossil belonging to the phylum of sponges called Archaeocyatha, which are an extinct reef-building species that live in marine environments. These species existed in the early Cambrian period but eventually became extinct, meaning that they date back to over 500 million years ago.”

The statement said that “scientific research is needed to define the marine area’s formation environment so as to determine the minerals expected to be found in marine depositional environments, most of which are ores used in the industry of drilling fluids. The research also has economic importance exemplified in the localization of the industry of bentonite, barite, calcium carbonate and silica ores in Sudan.”

According to the statement, the geological team has excavated 12 trenches and several samples were taken for external analysis, which revealed that they contained barite, vermiculite, bentonite (both sodium and calcium) and great depths of white sand.

Environmental experts have widely praised the recent discovery and its economic and scientific importance. 

Khaled Muhammad al-Hassan, assistant professor at the Faculty of Environmental Sciences at Omdurman Ahlia University in Sudan, told Al-Monitor, “The discovery is an added value for the geological history of the region and its various rocky and mineral compositions, as well as for the chemical elements it consists of, which allows scientific research to solve questions and prove or refute hypotheses. Also, the scientific information provided by such discoveries contributes to solving environmental problems.”

He stressed that “the discovery is of economic importance, as it could reveal minerals expected to be present in the marine sedimentary environment, most of which are raw materials used in the manufacture of drilling fluids such as bentonite and barite.”

Hassan called for “caution when economically exploiting such resources and for the need to be aware that they are depleted resources and impossible to deal with in a sustainable manner, which limits their consumption.”

He also warned of the negative environmental effects resulting from mining in search of such minerals because “this process leaves residues and will have a negative environmental impact, either as a result of the chemicals that may be used in the extraction process or as a result of the disturbance that might be caused to the surface of the earth.”

Hassan added that “geological discoveries are among the basics that scientists rely on to track climate change through the ages, as these changes affect the geological rock formation, which constitutes the backbone of studies investigating the hypothesis of the impact of natural climatic cycles on climate change.”

Bilal Salem, a researcher at the Mansoura University Center for Vertebrate Fossils in Egypt, told Al-Monitor, “The importance of the Sudanese discovery lies in the fact that the area where the excavation was carried out was never examined before, and according to the geological map, it was believed to belong to the Cretaceous period. But after a detailed examination of the sedimentary rocks, the area turned out to date back to the Cambrian period.”

Salem explained that “the age of the rocks was determined through marine invertebrate fossils that were found in these rocks. Such rocks are characterized by the fact that they only existed in the Cambrian period.”

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