The Dead Sea is disappearing, and here’s why

John Henrique Nov 23, 2020

The Dead Sea is a large, high-salinity lake located in the Middle East, bordered by Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

It is called a “sea” because of its size: today it comprises an area of ​​750 square kilometers (50 km long by 15 km wide).

The adjective “dead” has to do with the fact that there is no life in its waters, except for bacteria and algae. Few organisms can withstand so much salt!

The Dead Sea is slowly dying

Whether due to the diversion of water from its tributary or the arid desert climate, the fact is that the famous Dead Sea, a unique geological phenomenon on the planet, is slowly dying.

The main responsible for the drastic reduction of the volume of water in the Dead Sea is the human being. If this problem is not addressed, in the not too distant future the Dead Sea may dry up completely.

A popular tourist destination worldwide, this large lake surrounded by mountains in the middle of the desert has its days numbered.

Yes, as strange as it may seem, the Dead Sea is, in fact, dying. Or rather: drying. Since the 1960s, the lake has decreased in size by 35%.

Its water level drops by around 1 meter per year, and if no action is taken, in just 40 years there will not be a drop of water left.

Why is the Dead Sea shrinking?

Satellite images show the shrinking of the Dead Sea over the decades.
Satellite images show the shrinking of the Dead Sea over the decades. (Credit: NASA).

There is more than one factor that explains the gradual shrinking of the Dead Sea, which has shrunk about 1/3 of its size in the past 70 years. Let’s see what these factors are:

1. Diversion of the Jordan River waters for agricultural purposes and consumption.

The Jordan River is a tributary of the Dead Sea. This means that its waters supply this huge and isolated salt lake.

As it stands, the Dead Sea receives only 20% of the water it used to receive from the Jordan River. According to experts, this is currently the main problem.

2. Evaporation of water due to the desert climate.

As we know, it rarely rains in the desert. And the weather there is really hot! This causes the water to evaporate quickly.

With little rainfall, evaporated water is not replaced. On a dry and hot day, the level of the Dead Sea can drop between 2 and 3 centimeters!

3. Mining.

Predatory mining is another problem. This is because this activity uses large amounts of water.

How do sinkholes form in the Dead Sea?

The reduction in the level of the Dead Sea produced a curious phenomenon: sinkholes, which are craters that opened up on the shores of the Dead Sea. These craters are 100 meters in diameter and 50 meters deep.

What happens is the following. The Dead Sea shrinks, leaving dry soil behind. Freshwater springs that once flowed in the submerged soil now flow on dry ground, dissolving the layers of salt.

These infiltrations create underground cavities. And sooner or later, the soil gives way, forming sinkholes.

People began to notice the appearance of sinkholes in the 1970s. Today there are thousands of these craters, some of them destroying buildings and roads in the vicinity of the lake.

In addition to being impossible to stop this process, it is difficult to predict where the next sinkhole will appear.

Is it possible to prevent the disappearance of the Dead Sea?

The answer is: maybe.

Today, a promising solution is the diversion of salty waters from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea through a canal.

The Peace Canal Project brings together the countries Israel, Jordan, and Palestine.

The project was signed in 2013, but due to political tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, it has not yet been put into practice.

Large amounts of water from the Red Sea will have to be desalinated in order to supply the southern region of Jordan. The rest will be transported through 200 km of aqueducts to the Dead Sea.

But the Peace Canal alone will not be enough to save the Dead Sea. It will only slow down the process.

Mining and the drastic reduction in the flow of the Jordan River remain determining factors. Until that changes, the Dead Sea will continue to shrink.

Salt and density of the Dead Sea

Just to give you an idea, the oceans have about 35 grams of salt per kilogram of seawater. The Dead Sea has 300 grams!

In other words: its salinity index is almost nine times higher than that of the oceans! The higher the salinity of the water, the higher its density.

And due to the very high density of the waters of the Dead Sea, it is possible to float there without making any effort.

Negative altitude: -412 m

Another important feature of the Dead Sea is the fact that it is located at a very low altitude, one of the lowest on Earth: 412 meters below sea level!

No other body of water (rivers or lakes) is located at such a low altitude.

Dead Sea location

With no exit to the sea, the Dead Sea is stuck in the Jordan Valley.

To the east, it is bordered by Jordan. To the west, the West Bank. To the southwest, the State of Israel, as shown on the map below.

A drive to the Dead Sea from Jerusalem takes just 1 hour.

Related topics:

Dead Sea Israel

Written by John Henrique

John has a degree in IT and is the founder of Hyperaxion. He is a science enthusiast and can usually be found reading a book or playing role-playing games.


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