The Dead Sea is very much alive
I paid the Dead Sea a visit as a part of my epic trip to Israel during August 2015.
Despite it’s name, the Dead Sea isn’t even a sea – it’s a lake!
The Dead “Sea” is landlocked between Israel and Jordan and is set in the deepest part of the Syrian-African rift valley fault and its surface sits at the lowest point on dry land (approximately 430 meters below sea level).
But is it “dead”?
Well, until recently it was thought that no life exists under the water, not even bacteria! This is due to the incredibly high salt content (or salinity). In fact, it is one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth.
How salty is salty?
The surface of the water is about five to nine times saltier than the surface of the oceans, and the deeper you go the saltier it gets. At 40 meters deep, salinity can reach 10 times that of the oceans.
For some, like me, the salty water can irritate abrasions on the skin (irritate may be lightly put… ouch!). However, this giant salty spa has some benefits. The black mud rich in minerals and is popularly used for therapeutic and cosmetic treatments.
Trying out the special mineral rich mud… I clearly missed the ‘jump’ memo. (Image Source: Authors own)
Better yet, it can help spruce up any old outfit. In 2016, an artist immersed a dress into the Dead Sea where it crystallised and transformed. The new version of the dress is called the Salt Crystal Bride Gown.
But at 100 meters something interesting happens: the water becomes so salty that it reaches its saturation point, which simply means it cannot hold anymore salt. When this happens, the salt piles up at the bottom of the water. This excess salt causes the density of the water to rise, which makes anything in water more buoyant.
This is why my friends floated in the water, or soared, like my friend Caleb in the photo below.
Floating in the Dead Sea (Image sources: authors own images)
How did the salt get there and is it going anywhere?
For one thing, fresh water can flow into it the Dead Sea (from the Jordan River), but water cannot flow out; water can only escape through evaporation. When evaporation happens (and it happens often in the desert region that Dead Sea sits in– temperatures have been recorded as high as 51°C!) salt is left behind. The high evaporation leaves a mist above the water (see photos above). In addition, annual rainfall is low (about 50-100mm on average).
So simply put, trapped water along with high evaporation rates and mineral presence leads to a lot of excess salt.
But, over the years the water is becoming even saltier because humans are diverting the Jordan River for agricultural use. This shrinks the sea’s area and makes for a saltier soup.
Some research suggests that the Dead Sea could disappear at some point even without the help of humans. In 2010 and 2011, scientists in one study drilled below the Dead Sea and discovered that about 120,000 years ago the Dead Sea dried up completely leaving all of the salt behind.
But the Dead Sea still has more hidden wonders. In 2011, researchers dove to undiscovered depths of the sea and found freshwater springs surrounded by microbe colonies.
So maybe the Dead Sea isn’t so dead after all…