Dead Sea Update: It’s Still Dying…

Dead Sea Sinkhole. (Photo courtesy Israeli tour guide– and good friend, Shmuel Browns, at

An interesting photo essay published online by NPR the other day provides a reminder that the Dead Sea, a truly unique geographic feature and ecosystem, is still on the path to oblivion. Its shrinkage still stands at an alarming one meter or more per year — that’s the actual vertical drop in the water level, not the advance of the shoreline, which is greater.

Several solutions have been suggested over the past few decades, including canal-pipeline schemes (Med-to-Dead, Red-to-Dead) to connect the lake to other regional bodies of water, but none has been pursued thus far. The only real solution, in my opinion — which has never been seriously considered — is to restore the Jordan River/ Sea of Galilee system to its natural, free-flowing status, instead of ruthlessly tapping it to meet the water needs of the surrounding countries — Israel, Syria and Jordan — which was already well underway by the mid-1960s.

Anyway, I was shocked to learn that The Ein Gedi public beach, traditionally one of the most popular bathing spots on the Sea’s northern basin — has now been completely closed, apparently for some time! The reason: dangerous sinkholes related to the dissolution of salt-beds beneath the shore areas, a phenomenon already becoming a problem 20 to 30 years ago.

One curious fact which I learned in my seemingly long-ago tour guide training: The Sea’s southern basin is today a completely separate body of water, with it’s own dynamics. Consisting solely of a series of evaporation pans for the commercial extraction of minerals, even its floor stands many meters above the surface of the northern basin, with the differential increasing all the time. In other words, it’s actually rising as water is pumped up and out of the northern basin into the southern, simply exacerbating the shrinkage of the former. In the south, the floors of the evaporation impoundments are constantly rising, from the accumulation of unwanted minerals that precipitate out. This situation is managed, after a fashion, by periodically dredging this material and piling into massive salt-berms that serve to contain the ever-rising water level! It’s really quite curious, and rather counter-intuitive.

So, whenever you see present-day photos of hotels near the Dead Sea shoreline, and bathers lounging near the water on a flat beach — it’s the southern basin. At least that was the situation 15 years ago, and I presume it’s the same today.

To view the NPR piece, follow the link:

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