Dead Sea – New World Encyclopedia

Posted By on May 18, 2015

The Dead Sea (Arabic: , Hebrew: , translated as Sea of Salt), is a salt lake lying on the border between the nations of Israel and Jordan. Commonly known as the Earth's lowest point, it occurs at 1,371 feet (418 m) below sea level, making its shores the Earth's lowest point not under water or ice. It is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world, at 1,083 feet (330 m) deep. It is also the second saltiest body of water on Earth, with a salinity of about 30 percent (approximately 8.6 times greater than average ocean salinity). Only Lake Asal in Djibouti has a higher salinity.

The Dead Sea measures 42 miles (67 km) long and 11 miles (18 km) wide at its widest point. It lies in the Great Rift Valley. The Jordan River is its main tributary.

The Dead Sea has attracted interest and visitors from around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. It was a place of refuge for King David, one of the world's first health resorts (for Herod the Great), and it has been the supplier of products as diverse as balms for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilizers. The area holds significance in Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths as the location for events important in their historical records.

The Dead Sea is located in the Dead Sea Rift, which is part of a long fissure in the Earth's surface called the Great Rift Valley. The 3,700 mile (6,000 km ) long Great Rift Valley extends from the Taurus Mountains of Turkey to the Zambezi Valley in southern Africa. The Dead Sea lies 1,300 feet (400 metres) below sea level, making it the lowest elevation and the lowest body of water in the world.

The Dead Sea lies between the hills of Judea to the west and the Transjordanian plateaus to the east. Along the southwestern side of the Sea is a 700 foot (210 m) tall halite formation known as "Mount Sedom." Its eastern shore belongs to Jordan, and the southern half of its western shore belongs to Israel. The northern half of the western shore lies within the Palestinian West Bank and has been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. [2]

It is completely landlocked, with the Jordan River the only major river flowing into it. The inflow from the Jordan averages 19 billion cubic feet (540 million cubic meters) per year. There are smaller rivers and streams flowing down from the surrounding hills that feed into the Sea as well. There are no outlet streams, meaning that any water leaving the sea must do so through evaporation. When the water evaporates, it leaves behind all its dissolved minerals.

In times of flood the salt content of the Dead Sea can drop from its usual 35 percent salinity to 30 percent or lower. In the wakes of rainy winters the Dead Sea temporarily comes to life. In 1980, after one such rainy winter, the normally dark blue Dead Sea turned red. Researchers from Hebrew University found the Dead Sea to be teeming with a type of algae called Dunaliella. The Dunaliella in turn nourished carotenoid-containing (red-pigmented) halobacteria whose presence is responsible for the color change. Since 1980 the Dead Sea basin has been dry and the algae and the bacteria have not returned in measurable numbers.

Lying within a desert, rainfall is scanty and irregular. The northern area of the Dead Sea receives scarcely four inches (100 mm) of rain per year, with the southern section receiving barely two inches. The Dead Sea zone's aridity is due to the rainshadow effect of the Judean Hills. The highlands east of the Dead Sea receive more rainfall than the Dead Sea itself. The area has yearround sunny skies and dry air with low pollution.

The average temperatures are from 32 to 39 degrees Celsius in the summer and between 20 and 23 degrees C in the winter. The region has weakened UV radiation, particularly the UVB (erythrogenic rays), and a high oxygen content due to the high barometric pressure. The shore is the lowest dry place in the world. [3]

The sea is called "dead" because its high salinity means no fish or macroscopic aquatic organisms can live in it, though minuscule quantities of bacteria and microbial fungi are present. Even though the Dead Sea sustains little or no life, the ecosystem surrounding it is teeming with life. The skies are filled with migratory birds travelling between Africa and Europe, while hundreds of species make their home there. Animals such as bats, wild cats, camels, ibex, hares, hyraxes, jackals, foxes, and even leopards find refuge in its surrounding mountains. Both Jordan and Israel have established nature reserves around the Dead Sea. Modern-day communal Kibbutz settlements have sprung up in the area, maintaining close-knit social structures in harmony with nature.

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Dead Sea - New World Encyclopedia


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