The water level in the Dead Sea has been changing constantly over the past 200,000 years, according to researchers from Tel Aviv University, but humanity may have finally pushed the lowest point on Earth’s surface too far.
Researchers led by Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham of TAU’s Minerva Dead Sea Research Center and Prof. Mordechai Stein of the Geological Survey of Israel drilled 460 metres beneath the sea floor and extracted sediments that spanned 200,000 years.
Layers of salt in the sediments indicated several periods of dryness and little rainfall which caused the water to recede and the salt to gather at the centre of the lake.
For example, during the last interglacial period approximately 120,000 years ago, the Dead Sea came close to drying up completely, with another period of extreme dryness taking place only 13,000 years ago.
Today, the Dead Sea lies 426 meters below sea level and is receding rapidly. Despite this historical precedent, there is still cause for concern, says Prof. Ben-Avraham. In the past the change was climate-driven, the result of natural conditions; today, the lake is threatened by human activity.
“What we see happening in the Middle East is something that mimics a severe dry period, but this is not climate-enforced, this is a man-made phenomenon,” he warns, caused by increasing amounts of water being taken from rivers for irrigation before it reaches the Dead Sea. Ultimately, this prevents the refilling of the sea by the waters of the Jordan River.