Why is the Dead Sea Dying?

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When the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, God explained to Moses what the borders of their promised land would be. In Numbers 34:3 God says “... and your southern border shall run from the end of the Salt Sea on the east.”

We know this reference to a “Salt Sea” to be what is commonly known today as the Dead Sea. The sea is 42 miles long, 11 miles wide, and holds the “top spot” for being the lowest point on earth at over 1,300 feet below sea level. That measurement is changing every year because, on average, the Dead Sea annually recedes 3 feet.

The sea is known for its extremely high levels of salt and other minerals, making its water more than 8x saltier than the oceans. For those visiting Israel or neighboring Jordan (which also has Dead Sea shoreline) a stop at the body of water and a chance to float in the extremely buoyant lake is a unique experience. This high saline level also contributes to its name as the “DEAD Sea”. Organisms such as fish and plants cannot live in the salty conditions. 

The region near the Dead Sea, known as the Judean Wilderness, was the location where King David went to hide from Saul (Ein Gedi) and was the location of a massive fortress built by Herod the Great (Masada) which became a refuge for Jews fleeing from Jerusalem in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the capital city. 

So why is the Dead Sea losing water?  

Evaporation: 

Because of its extremely low elevation, temperatures can soar well above 100oF during the hottest months of the year. The region surrounding the sea is very dry and arid causing the evaporation of water without replenishing the water through rain.  According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine it would take approximately 160 billion gallons of water annually to maintain the current size of the body of water.(1)  

Overuse & River Damming: 

Dams and rerouting of the Jordan River, which flows into the Dead Sea, have turned the once wide and quick moving waterway into a slow-moving, narrow link between the Sea of Galilee in the north of Israel and the Dead Sea. The region uses the water to sustain life and in the process impacts the water levels of the Jordan which is leading to less water flowing into the sea to replenish the loss from evaporation.

Looking ahead, environmental engineers and others are working on ways to reverse what seems to be an inevitably grim future for the Dead Sea. While the body of water cannot support industries like fishing, it does attract large numbers of tourists and the minerals are farmed for products of all kinds. One thing has been unchanging since the times of Biblical history: the Dead Sea has played a significant role in the landscape of the Bible lands and has been seen as a natural border for what God defined as the promised land for His people.  

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(1) “The Dying of the Dead Sea”, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2005, Joshua Hammer (www.smithsonianmag.com)