Dead Sea Evaporating?

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The Dead Sea is evaporating at an alarming rate due to the diversion of fresh water from the Jordan River. This could cause it to vanish within decades, leading to concerns for its ecological and economic importance. The sea’s high salinity and sinking due to tectonic plates make it unique, but the lack of water flow is causing it to shrink. Extraction of mineral salts also contributes to the problem. Neighboring nations must change their water use policies or import water to save the Dead Sea.

Studies of the Dead or Salt Sea, a unique geological feature between Israel and Jordan, have revealed that it is indeed evaporating at an alarming rate. Evaporation is actually part of the process that gives the sea its unique properties, but evaporation has become unsustainable due to the diversion of fresh water from the river that once fed the body of water. In the early twenty-first century, it was estimated that the Dead Sea could essentially vanish within several decades at the current rate of evaporation. This has led to concerns among conservationists and people living in the region, since the Dead Sea is very intriguing ecologically and is a major source of revenue for both neighboring governments.

The Dead Sea is a huge inland lake. Two things make this body of water intriguing. The first is the hypersalinity of water, which has a high concentration of mineral salts from the earth’s crust. The concentration is so high that salts often accumulate on the shore and people swimming in the sea sway like corks. The second point of interest is the fact that the sea is slowly sinking, as it sits in a rift between two tectonic plates. As the plates separate, the rift deepens and the Dead Sea sinks lower; about a foot (30 centimeters) each year.

The body of water first got its name when visitors noticed a lack of life in the area. It was believed that no organism could survive in extremely salty conditions. Some extremophile bacteria have since proven that theory to be untrue, but there is definitely a shortage of large animal and plant life in the region.

The Dead Sea was originally connected to the ocean through the Red Sea, but slowly became an inland lake over millions of years. The largest reservoir of water for the sea is the Jordan River, which carries water into the sea to replace water lost through evaporation. As the water evaporates, it concentrates the salts in the sea, maintaining a high level of salinity. Unfortunately, both Israel and Jordan use the river extensively as a water reservoir for irrigation and municipal water storage. Consequently, when the Jordan reaches the sea, it is a heavily depleted trickle. This trickle is not enough to replace the water lost from the Dead Sea which slowly evaporates and as a result the Sea is shrinking.

The problem is compounded by the extraction and evaporation of water from the Dead Sea to extract the precious mineral salts. Salts are believed to be beneficial to human health which is why people flock to the sea as a vacation destination. They can also be processed to produce useful chemical compounds. However, extensive evaporation also contributes to lowering the water level.

Eventually, evaporation will cause the Dead Sea to reach such a high salinity point that it will essentially stop evaporating. However, the size of the sea will shrink dramatically. Over thousands of years, the remaining water would be slowly extracted, leaving behind a large deposit of salt. To save the sea, neighboring nations must change their water use policies, or consider importing water through canals to refresh the rapidly shrinking and irreplaceable Dead Sea.

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