The Dead Sea has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean Basin
for thousands of years. It was one of the world's first health resorts (for Herod the Great
), and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification
. Today, tourists visit the sea on its Israeli, Jordanian and West Bank coastlines. The Palestinian tourism industry has been met with setbacks in developing along the West Bank coast.
The Dead Sea is receding at a swift rate; its surface area today is 605 km2
(234 sq mi), having been 1,050 km2
(410 sq mi) in 1930. The recession of the Dead Sea has begun causing problems, and multiple canal and pipeline proposals have been made to reduce its recession. One of these proposals is the Red Sea–Dead Sea Water Conveyance
pipeline project, which would provide water to neighbouring countries and carry brine to the Dead Sea to help stabilise its water level.
Etymology and toponymy
In Hebrew, the Dead Sea is Yām ha-Melaḥ (help·info)
), meaning "sea of salt
14:3). The Bible uses this term alongside two others: the Sea of the Arabah (Yām ha-‘Ărāvâ ים הערבה
), and the Eastern Sea (ha-Yām ha-kadmoni הים הקדמוני
). The designation "Dead Sea" never appears in the Bible. In prose sometimes the term Yām ha-Māvet
, "sea of death") is used, due to the scarcity of aquatic life there.
, the Dead Sea is called al-Bahr al-Mayyit
("the Dead Sea"), or less commonly baḥrᵘ lūṭᵃ
, "the Sea of Lot
"). Another historic name in Arabic was the "Sea of Zoʼar
", after a nearby town in biblical times. The Greeks called it Lake Asphaltites
ἡ Θάλαττα ἀσφαλτῖτης, hē Thálatta asphaltĩtēs
, "the Asphaltite
The Jordan River
is the only major water source flowing into the Dead Sea, although there are small perennial springs under and around the Dead Sea, forming pools and quicksand
pits along the edges.
There are no outlet streams.
The Mujib River, biblical Arnon, is one of the larger water sources of the Dead Sea other than the Jordan.
The Wadi Mujib
valley, 420 m below the sea level in the southern part of the Jordan valley, is a biosphere reserve
, with an area of 212 km2
(82 sq mi
Other more substantial sources are Wadi Darajeh (Arabic)/Nahal Dragot (Hebrew), and Nahal Arugot
that ends at Ein Gedi
(German article at: de:Nachal Arugot
). Wadi Hasa
(biblical Zered) is another wadi
flowing into the Dead Sea.
Rainfall is scarcely 100 mm (4 in) per year in the northern part of the Dead Sea and barely 50 mm (2 in) in the southern part.
The Dead Sea zone's aridity is due to the rainshadow
effect of the Judaean Mountains
. The highlands
east of the Dead Sea receive more rainfall than the Dead Sea itself.
To the west of the Dead Sea, the Judaean mountains rise less steeply and are much lower than the mountains to the east. Along the southwestern side of the lake is a 210 m (700 ft) tall halite
mineral formation called Mount Sodom
The Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea, showing salt deposits left behind by falling water levels.
There are two contending hypotheses about the origin of the low elevation of the Dead Sea. The older hypothesis is that the Dead Sea lies in a true rift zone, an extension of the Red Sea Rift
, or even of the Great Rift Valley
of eastern Africa
. A more recent hypothesis is that the Dead Sea basin is a consequence of a "step-over" discontinuity along the Dead Sea Transform, creating an extension of the crust with consequent subsidence.
The Sedom Lagoon extended at its maximum from the Sea of Galilee
in the north to somewhere around 50 km (30 mi) south of the current southern end of the Dead Sea, and the subsequent lakes never surpassed this expanse. The Hula Depression
was never part of any of these water bodies due to its higher elevation and the high threshold of the Korazim block
separating it from the Sea of Galilee basin.
The Sedom Lagoon deposited evaporites
mainly consisting of rock salt
, which eventually reached a thickness of 2.3 km (1.43 mi) on the old basin floor in the area of today's Mount Sedom
Approximately two million years ago,
the land between the Rift Valley
and the Mediterranean Sea rose to such an extent that the ocean could no longer flood the area. Thus, the long lagoon became a landlocked lake.
The first prehistoric lake to follow the Sedom Lagoon is named Lake Amora
(which possibly appeared in the early Pleistocene; its sediments developed into the Amora (Samra) Formation, dated to over 200-80 kyr BP
), followed by Lake Lisan
(c. 70-14 kyr) and finally by the Dead Sea.
The water levels and salinity of the successive lakes (Amora, Lisan, Dead Sea) have either risen or fallen as an effect of the tectonic dropping of the valley bottom, and due to climate variation. As the climate became more arid, Lake Lisan finally shrank and became saltier, leaving the Dead Sea as its last remainder.
From 70,000 to 12,000 years ago, Lake Lisan's level was 100 m (330 ft) to 250 m (820 ft) higher than its current level. Its level fluctuated dramatically, rising to its highest level around 26,000 years ago, indicating a very wet climate in the Near East
Around 10,000 years ago, the lake's level dropped dramatically, probably even lower than today. During the last several thousand years, the lake has fluctuated approximately 400 m (1,300 ft), with some significant drops and rises. Current theories as to the cause of this dramatic drop in levels rule out volcanic activity
; therefore, it may have been a seismic event.
Salt mounts formation
In prehistoric times[dubious – discuss]
, great amounts of sediment collected on the floor of Lake Amora. The sediment was heavier than the salt deposits and squeezed the salt deposits upwards into what are now the Lisan Peninsula
and Mount Sodom
(on the southwest side of the lake). Geologists explain the effect in terms of a bucket of mud into which a large flat stone is placed, forcing the mud to creep up the sides of the bucket. When the floor of the Dead Sea dropped further due to tectonic forces, the salt mounts of Lisan and Mount Sodom stayed in place as high cliffs (see salt dome
The Dead Sea has a hot desert climate
(Köppen climate classification
BWh), with year-round sunny skies and dry air. It has less than 50 millimetres (2 in) mean annual rainfall and a summer average temperature between 32 and 39 °C (90 and 102 °F). Winter average temperatures range between 20 and 23 °C (68 and 73 °F). The region has weaker ultraviolet radiation
, particularly the UVB (erythrogenic rays). Given the higher atmospheric pressure
, the air has a slightly higher oxygen
content (3.3% in summer to 4.8% in winter) as compared to oxygen concentration at sea level.
Barometric pressures at the Dead Sea were measured between 1061 and 1065 hPa and clinically compared with health effects at higher altitude.
(This barometric measure is about 5% higher than sea level standard atmospheric pressure of 1013.25 hPa, which is the global ocean mean or ATM.) The Dead Sea affects temperatures nearby because of the moderating effect a large body of water has on climate. During the winter, sea temperatures tend to be higher than land temperatures, and vice versa during the summer months. This is the result of the water's mass and specific heat capacity
. On average, there are 192 days above 30 °C (86 °F) annually.
Halite deposits (and teepee structure) along the western Dead Sea coast
In the 19th century and the early 20th century, the surface layers of the Dead Sea were less salty than today, which resulted in an average density in the range of 1.15-1.17 g/cm3
instead of the present value of around 1.25 g/cm3
. A sample tested by Bernays
in the 19th century had a salinity of 19%. By the year 1926, the salinity had increased
(although it was also suspected that the salinity varies seasonally and depends on the distance from the mouth of the Jordan
Until the winter of 1978–79, when a major mixing event took place,
the Dead Sea was composed of two stratified layers of water that differed in temperature, density, age, and salinity. The topmost 35 meters (115 ft) or so of the Dead Sea had an average salinity of about 30%, and a temperature that swung between 19 °C (66 °F) and 37 °C (99 °F). Underneath a zone of transition, the lowest level of the Dead Sea had waters of a consistent 22 °C (72 °F) temperature, salinity of over 34%, and complete saturation
of sodium chloride
Since the water near the bottom is saturated
with NaCl, that salt precipitates out of solution onto the sea floor
Beginning in the 1960s, water inflow to the Dead Sea from the Jordan River was reduced as a result of large-scale irrigation and generally low rainfall. By 1975, the upper water layer was saltier than the lower layer. Nevertheless, the upper layer remained suspended above the lower layer because its waters were warmer and thus less dense. When the upper layer cooled so its density was greater than the lower layer, the waters mixed (1978–79). For the first time in centuries, the lake was a homogeneous body of water. Since then, stratification
has begun to redevelop.
Pebbles cemented with halite
on the western shore of the Dead Sea near Ein Gedi
The mineral content of the Dead Sea is very different from that of ocean water. The exact composition of the Dead Sea water varies mainly with season, depth and temperature. In the early 1980s, the concentration of ionic species (in g/kg) of Dead Sea surface water was Cl−
(6.2) and Mg2+
(35.2). The total salinity was 276 g/kg.
These results show that the composition of the salt, as anhydrous chlorides on a weight percentage basis, was calcium chloride
) 14.4%, potassium chloride
(KCl) 4.4%, magnesium chloride
) 50.8% and sodium chloride
(NaCl) 30.4%. In comparison, the salt in the water of most oceans
is approximately 85% sodium chloride
. The concentration of sulfate
) is very low, and the concentration of bromide
) is the highest of all waters on Earth.
Beach pebbles made of halite
; western coast
The salt concentration of the Dead Sea fluctuates around 31.5%. This is unusually high and results in a nominal density of 1.24 kg/l. Anyone can easily float in the Dead Sea because of natural buoyancy
. In this respect the Dead Sea is similar to the Great Salt Lake
in the United States.
An unusual feature of the Dead Sea is its discharge of asphalt
. From deep seeps
, the Dead Sea constantly spits up small pebbles and blocks of the black substance.
Asphalt-coated figurines and bitumen-coated Neolithic
skulls from archaeological
sites have been found. Egyptian mummification
processes used asphalt imported from the Dead Sea region.
The region's climate and low elevation have made it a popular center for assessment of putative therapies:
Climatotherapy at the Dead Sea may be a therapy for psoriasis
by sunbathing for long periods in the area due to its position below sea level and subsequent result that UV rays
are partially blocked by the increased thickness of the atmosphere
over the Dead Sea.
Dead Sea mud pack therapy has been suggested to temporarily relieve pain in patients with osteoarthritis
of the knees. According to researchers of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev
, treatment with mineral-rich mud compresses can be used to augment conventional medical therapy.
Panorama of the Dead Sea from the Mövenpick
Fauna and flora
Dead Sea in the morning, seen from Masada
The sea is called "dead" because its high salinity prevents macroscopic aquatic organisms, such as fish and aquatic plants
, from living in it, though minuscule quantities of bacteria and microbial fungi are present.
In times of flood, the salt content of the Dead Sea can drop from its usual 35% to 30% or lower. The Dead Sea temporarily comes to life in the wake of rainy winters. In 1980, after one such rainy winter, the normally dark blue Dead Sea turned red. Researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem
found the Dead Sea to be teeming with an alga
in turn nourished carotenoid
, whose presence caused the color change. Since 1980, the Dead Sea basin has been dry and the algae and the bacteria have not returned in measurable numbers.
In 2011 a group of scientists from Be'er Sheva, Israel and Germany discovered fissures in the floor of the Dead Sea by scuba diving and observing the surface. These fissures allow fresh and brackish water to enter the Dead Sea. They sampled biofilms surrounding the fissures and discovered numerous species of bacteria and archaea
is a small community on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, and others including Suweima. Highway 65
runs north–south on the Jordanian side from near Jordan's northern tip down past the Dead Sea to the port of Aqaba
Dwelling in caves near the Dead Sea is recorded in the Hebrew Bible
as having taken place before the Israelites
came to Canaan
, and extensively at the time of King David
Just northwest of the Dead Sea is Jericho
. Somewhere, perhaps on the southeastern shore, would be the cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis
which were said to have been destroyed in the time of Abraham
: Sodom and Gomorra
(Genesis 18) and the three other "Cities of the Plain", Admah
(Deuteronomy 29:23). Zoar escaped destruction when Abraham's nephew Lot
escaped to Zoar from Sodom (Genesis 19:21–22). Before the destruction, the Dead Sea was a valley full of natural tar pits
, which was called the vale of Siddim
. King David was said to have hidden from Saul
at Ein Gedi nearby.
In Ezekiel 47:8–9 there is a specific prophecy that the sea will "be healed and made fresh", becoming a normal lake capable of supporting marine life
. A similar prophecy is stated in Zechariah 14:8, which says that "living waters will go out from Jerusalem
, half of them to the eastern sea [likely the Dead Sea] and half to the western sea [the Mediterranean
Greek and Roman period
wrote about the remarkable waters. The Nabateans
and others discovered the value of the globs of natural asphalt
that constantly floated to the surface where they could be harvested with nets. The Egyptians were steady customers, as they used asphalt in the embalming
process that created mummies
. The Ancient Romans
knew the Dead Sea as "Palus Asphaltites
A cargo boat on the Dead Sea as seen on the Madaba Map
, from the 6th century AD
The Dead Sea was an important trade route with ships carrying salt, asphalt and agricultural produce. Multiple anchorages existed on both sides of the sea, including in Ein Gedi
, Khirbet Mazin
(where the ruins of a Hasmonean
-era dry dock are located), Numeira
and near Masada
King Herod the Great
built or rebuilt several fortresses and palaces on the western bank of the Dead Sea. The most famous was Masada
, where in 70 CE a small group of Jewish zealots
fled after the fall of the destruction of the Second Temple
. The zealots survived until 73 CE, when a siege by the X Legion
ended in the deaths by suicide of its 960 inhabitants. Another historically important fortress was Machaerus
(מכוור), on the eastern bank, where, according to Josephus, John the Baptist
was imprisoned by Herod Antipas
Also in Roman times, some Essenes
settled on the Dead Sea's western shore; Pliny the Elder
identifies their location with the words, "on the west side of the Dead Sea, away from the coast ... [above] the town of Engeda" (Natural History
, Bk 5.73); and it is therefore a hugely popular but contested hypothesis today, that same Essenes are identical with the settlers at Qumran
and that "the Dead Sea Scrolls
" discovered during the 20th century in the nearby caves had been their own library.
identified the Dead Sea in geographic proximity to the ancient Biblical city of Sodom
. However, he referred to the lake by its Greek name, Asphaltites.
Various sects of Jews settled in caves overlooking the Dead Sea. The best known of these are the Essenes
, who left an extensive library known as the Dead Sea Scrolls
The town of Ein Gedi
, mentioned many times in the Mishna
, produced persimmon
for the temple's fragrance and for export, using a secret recipe. "Sodomite salt" was an essential mineral for the temple's holy incense, but was said to be dangerous for home use and could cause blindness.
The Roman camps surrounding Masada
were built by Jewish slaves receiving water from the towns around the lake. These towns had drinking water from the Ein Feshcha
springs and other sweetwater springs in the vicinity.
The southern basin of the Dead Sea as of 1817–18, with the Lisan Peninsula and its ford (now named Lynch Strait). North is to the right.
World's lowest (dry) point, Jordan
Explorers and scientists arrived in the area to analyze the minerals and research the unique climate.
After the find of the "Moabite Stone
" in 1868 on the plateau east of the Dead Sea, Moses Wilhelm Shapira
and his partner Salim al-Khouri forged and sold a whole range of presumed "Moabite" antiquities, and in 1883 Shapira presented what is now known as the "Shapira Strips", a supposedly ancient scroll written on leather strips which he claimed had been found near the Dead Sea. The strips were declared to be forgeries and Shapira took his own life in disgrace.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, hundreds of religious documents dated between 150 BCE and 70 CE were found in caves near the ancient settlement of Qumran
, about one mile (1.6 kilometres) inland from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea (presently in the West Bank). They became known and famous as the Dead Sea Scrolls
The world's lowest roads, Highway 90
, run along the Israeli and West Bank shores of the Dead Sea, along with Highway 65 on the Jordanian
side, at 393 m (1,289 ft) below sea level.
Tourism and leisure
British Mandate period
The first major Israeli hotels were built in nearby Arad
, and since the 1960s at the Ein Bokek
Israel has 15 hotels along the Dead Sea shore, generating total revenues of $291 million in 2012. Most Israeli hotels and resorts on the Dead Sea are on a six-kilometre (3.7-mile) stretch of the southern shore.
Kempinski Hotel, one of the many hotels on the Jordanian
The portion of Dead Sea coast which Palestinians could possibly eventually manage is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) long. The World Bank estimates that such Dead Sea tourism industry could generate $290 million of revenues per year and 2,900 jobs.
However, Palestinians have been unable to obtain construction permits for tourism-related investments on the Dead Sea.
According to the World Bank, officials in the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities state that the only way to apply for such permits is through the Joint Committees established under the Oslo Agreement, but the relevant committee has not met with any degree of regularity since 2000.
View of salt evaporation pans on the Dead Sea, taken in 1989 from the Space Shuttle Columbia
). The southern half is separated from the northern half at what used to be the Lisan Peninsula
because of the fall in level of the Dead Sea.
View of the mineral evaporation ponds almost 12 years later (STS-102
). A northern and small southeastern extension were added and the large polygonal ponds subdivided.
The dwindling water level of the Dead Sea
British Mandate period
In the early part of the 20th century, the Dead Sea began to attract interest from chemists who deduced the sea was a natural deposit of potash
(potassium chloride) and bromine
. A concession was granted by the British Mandatory government
to the newly formed Palestine Potash Company in 1929. Its founder, Siberian Jewish engineer and pioneer of Lake Baikal
exploitation, Moses Novomeysky
, had worked for the charter for over ten years having first visited the area in 1911.
The first plant, on the north shore of the Dead Sea at Kalya
, commenced production in 1931
and produced potash by solar evaporation of the brine. Employing Arabs and Jews, it was an island of peace in turbulent times.
The company quickly grew into the largest industrial site in the Middle East,
and in 1934 built a second plant on the southwest shore, in the Mount Sodom
area, south of the 'Lashon' region
of the Dead Sea. Palestine Potash Company supplied half of Britain's potash during World War II
. Both plants were destroyed by the Jordanians in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War
The Dead Sea Works
was founded in 1952 as a state-owned enterprise based on the remnants of the Palestine Potash Company.
In 1995, the company was privatized and it is now owned by Israel Chemicals
. From the Dead Sea brine, Israel produces (2001) 1.77 million tons
potash, 206,000 tons elemental bromine, 44,900 tons caustic soda
, 25,000 tons magnesium
metal, and sodium chloride. Israeli companies generate around US$3 billion annually from the sale of Dead Sea minerals (primarily potash and bromine), and from other products that are derived from Dead Sea Minerals.
On the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, Arab Potash
(APC), formed in 1956, produces 2.0 million tons of potash annually, as well as sodium chloride and bromine. The plant is located at Safi, South Aghwar Department, in the Karak Governorate
Jordanian Dead Sea mineral industries generate about $1.2 billion in sales (equivalent to 4 percent of Jordan's GDP).
The Palestinian Dead Sea Coast is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) long. The Palestinian economy is unable to benefit from Dead Sea chemicals due to restricted access, permit issues and the uncertainties of the investment climate.
The World Bank estimates that a Palestinian Dead Sea chemicals industry could generate $918M incremental value added per year, "almost equivalent to the contribution of the entire manufacturing sector of Palestinian territories today".
Both companies, Dead Sea Works Ltd. and Arab Potash, use extensive salt evaporation pans
that have essentially diked the entire southern end of the Dead Sea for the purpose of producing carnallite
, potassium magnesium chloride, which is then processed further to produce potassium chloride. The ponds
are separated by a central dike that runs roughly north–south along the international border. The power plant
on the Israeli side allows production of magnesium metal (by a subsidiary, Dead Sea Magnesium Ltd.).
Due to the popularity of the sea's therapeutic and healing properties, several companies have also shown interest in the manufacturing and supplying of Dead Sea salts as raw materials for body and skin care products.
Recession and environmental concerns
Gully in unconsolidated Dead Sea sediments exposed by recession of water levels. It was excavated by floods from the Judean Mountains
in less than a year.
Since 1930, when its surface was 1,050 km2
(410 sq mi) and its level was 390 m (1,280 ft) below sea level, the Dead Sea has been monitored continuously. In recent decades,[which?]
the Dead Sea has been rapidly shrinking because of diversion of incoming water from the Jordan River to the north. The southern end is fed by a canal maintained by the Dead Sea Works, a company that converts the sea's raw materials. From a water surface of 395 m (1,296 ft) below sea level in 1970
it fell 22 m (72 ft) to 418 m (1,371 ft) below sea level in 2006, reaching a drop rate of 1 m (3 ft) per year. As the water level decreases, the characteristics of the Sea and surrounding region may substantially change.
The Dead Sea level drop has been followed by a groundwater
level drop, causing brines that used to occupy underground layers near the shoreline to be flushed out by freshwater. This is believed to be the cause of the recent appearance of large sinkholes
along the western shore—incoming freshwater dissolves salt layers, rapidly creating subsurface cavities that subsequently collapse to form these sinkholes.
In May 2009 at the World Economic Forum
, Jordan announced its plans to construct the "Jordan National Red Sea Development Project
" (JRSP). This is a plan to convey seawater from the Red Sea
near Aqaba to the Dead Sea. Water would be desalinated along the route to provide fresh water to Jordan, with the brine discharge sent to the Dead Sea for replenishment. Israel has expressed its support and will likely benefit from some of the water delivery to its Negev
At a regional conference in July 2009, officials expressed concern about the declining water levels. Some suggested industrial activities around the Dead Sea might need to be reduced. Others advised environmental measures to restore conditions such as increasing the volume of flow from the Jordan River to replenish the Dead Sea. Currently, only sewage and effluent from fish ponds run in the river's channel. Experts also stressed the need for strict conservation efforts. They said agriculture should not be expanded, sustainable support capabilities should be incorporated into the area and pollution sources should be reduced.
In October 2009, the Jordanians announced accelerated plans to extract around 300 million cubic metres (11 billion cubic feet) of water per year from the Red Sea, desalinate it for use as fresh water and send the waste water to the Dead Sea by tunnel, despite concerns about inadequate time to assess the potential environmental impact. According to Jordan's minister for water, General Maysoun Zu'bi, this project could be considered as the first phase of the Red Sea–Dead Sea Water Conveyance
In December 2013, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority
signed an agreement for laying a water pipeline to link the Red Sea with the Dead Sea. The pipeline will be 180 km (110 mi) long and is estimated to take up to five years to complete.
In January 2015 it was reported that the level of water is now dropping by 1 m (3 ft) a year.
On 27 November 2016, it was announced that the Jordanian government is shortlisting five consortiums to implement the project. Jordan's ministry of Water and Irrigation said that the $100 million first phase of the project will begin construction in the first quarter of 2018, and will be completed by 2021.
Views in 1972, 1989, and 2011 compared
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