The Dead Sea Is Disappearing

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Scientists and bureaucrats alike are very concerned about the Dead Sea, that super salty, religiously famous lake that lies on the border of Israel and Jordan. It's shrinking at an alarming rate and nobody knows what to do. The body of water that served as a refuge for King David in Biblical times has dropped a record 4.9 feet in the last year, and the disappearing water is showing no signs of slowing down. As a point of comparison, the world's oceans that are rising at record rates have only gone up 4 to 8 inches in the past century. If we don't do something soon, there's a distinct chance that the Dead Sea as we know it could just disappear.

The reasons for the sinking sea are pretty straightforward. Experts say that half the drop has been caused by industry, specifically Israel Chemicals Ltd and Jordan's Arab Potash Co. The Dead Sea's waters contain ten times more salt than the oceans, a fact that makes its waters perfect for manufacturing potash, a basic ingredient in fertilizer. As the chemical companies pump out the salty, profitable water for potash, the local agricultural industry diverts water from the Jordan River that feeds the Dead Sea to their fields of crops. 

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Agriculture and industry are important, but aside from the religious implications, the disappearance of the Dead Sea is causing some really serious geological problems. As the Dead Sea has lost over one third of its surface area, sinkholes have become increasingly common in the region. And it's not a cheap problem to fix. One to reverse the negative flow by using two tunnels and a pipeline to keep the sea full would cost $10 billion. It's not so simple as pumping a bunch of sea water or even fresh water. Since the Dead Sea's composition is so unique, any change in salinization would deeply affect the local ecosystems.

This puts the locals in a real pickle. On one hand, the Dead Sea's waters is helping to keep their people fed, and the sea itself provides a much needed flow of cash from tourism. On the other hands, they're on track to destroy the very commodity that's helped the region to thrive. To be really cynical about the whole thing, though, the Dead Sea's not going to disappear tomorrow. Might as well wait around for science to invent a solution. Like we're doing with the world's global warming problem. That's going real well.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.