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The shrinking of the Dead Sea

Recent research has found that the Dead Sea is shrinking. There are many contributory factors for this including the changing climate and the overuse of water as a resource. As this fresh groundwater flows downstream, it causes salt to dissolve in the soil. This causes water to slowly dissolve these salt deposits until the earth above collapses without warning. In the past 15 years, more than 1,000 sinkholes have appeared. Date palm fields, a portion of a road and several buildings on the sea’s northwest coast have been swallowed up by these sinkholes. Environmental experts fear that hotels along the shore are also in danger of being swallowed by sinkholes. These salt deposits also lead to large-scale subsistence of the surrounding land surface.

What is the impact of the Dead Sea getting smaller?

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, together with colleagues from Hannover, Kiel and Padua, have demonstrated a direct link between the decrease in the water table, evaporation and land subsidence. A range of instruments was used in the investigation, including measurement methods based on the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), radar satellites and on-site gauge and climate stations. Researchers showed that the solid earth moves up and down in synchronisation with fluctuations in the water surface and groundwater level with an 8-week time lag. This trend goes in a downward direction.

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How quickly is it shrinking?

The water level of the Dead Sea sinks around a meter a year and the land sinks about 15 centimetres a year. The Jordan River and inflows of rainfall from surrounding mountains cause short-term rises in water levels. However, water use for agriculture, pumping of saline water to extract potassium, and evaporation caused by high heat mean that water levels continue to decline. To maintain its current size, the Dead Sea would need a yearly infusion of 160 billion gallons of water. At the moment, it barely gets 10% of that.

Taking action to ensure that our natural resources are used in as sustainable a way as possible should be a priority for every nation. Increasing the sustainability of agricultural systems, whilst providing food for a globally increasing population, and protecting biodiversity and the environment around us, are all challenges that the world is facing but we must work towards a greener future on a healthy and prosperous planet.

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