Why is the Dead Sea Dying?
Lying in the Jordan River Valley at the edge of the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea is one of the world's most intriguing bodies of water. At 429 meters below sea level, it is the lowest point on Earth, not counting the oceans. It is also ringed by the world's lowest road, a highway running along its Israeli and West Bank shores.
The Dead Sea is not an ocean, and in fact, the mineral content in its water is quite different from ocean water. However, it is not actually a sea, either! Technically, the Dead Sea is a hypersaline lake - and with a depth of 304 meters, it is the deepest one in the world. This ancient lake is very salty because water arrives at the lake via the Jordan River, but this body of water has no way to exit the lake other than through evaporation. This evaporation process leaves the salt behind which, over time, has built up quite substantially.
Although the Dead Sea has a whopping 9.6 times greater amount of salt than that in the oceans, it is not the world's saltiest hypersaline lake. Several lakes in Antarctica, one in Djibouti, and a lagoon in the Caspian Sea all have a higher salt content.
The Dead Sea is salty enough to prevent life from living there - hence its name. Despite its desolate reputation, very small amounts of bacteria and microbial fungi are present.
Occasionally the Dead Sea will bloom. As a result of rainy winters, microscopic life in the Dead Sea flourishes. During one rainy winter, for example, the sea turned eerie red due to the temporary population boom of red-pigmented bacteria. Since 1980, however, the Sea has been drier and these periodic colourful bursts of life have ceased.
While it isn't a nourishing habitat for life, the Dead Sea has helped humans to flourish. It was one of the first health spas in the world and has been attracting hordes of human visitors for thousands of years.
Its unique combination of minerals, high salt content, and sought-after black mud have long been used to provide relief for various ailments.
Some of its benefits can be packaged up and sold around the world, but for others, for example, the low pollen and high bromide content of the air, high atmospheric pressure, and reduced UV rays, travelers need to visit the lake itself. However, even for those without health problems, the Dead Sea still offers an incredibly unique experience; its density makes swimming more like floating!
The Dead Sea also has a long and dignified history beyond its use as a health spa. To some, it's a place of religious significance, as the bible says that it served as a refuge for King David.
The ancient Egyptians used it to produce a balm as well as asphalt that was important in the process of mummification, and the discovery of asphalt-coated statues from the Neolithic era suggests that the use of this uniquely produced substance dates back even further.
More recently, it has been used as a source of potash for fertilizers - a process which is exacerbating problems it faces.
Many are fooled into thinking that the Dead Sea is dead, for some reason or another, because of its name. While this is not exactly true, what many don't know is that it is dying, in a sense.
The water level in the Dead Sea is dropping over one meter (1.1 yards) per year, and it has dropped a remarkable 40 meters (44 yards) since the 1950's - largely due to the drop in incoming water from the Jordan River.
In its wake, the shrinking Dead Sea has left moonscapes of cracked mud flats, around 3,000 sinkholes, and even an abandoned water park - all testaments to its slow and tragic demise.
As a result of a scarcity of water over the last several decades, Jordan, Israel, and Syria have diverted the freshwater sources, that feed the Dead Sea, for their own drinking water and irrigation. As well, Israeli and Jordanian companies evaporate the Dead Sea waters to harvest for rich mineral exports.
Resently King Abdullah of Jordan said. "The Dead Sea and the sacred Jordan River are treasures of the past and legacies for our future."