The Dead Sea is dying

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Sinkholes appear as the Dead Sea begins to disappear. Courtesy of Moritz Küstner.

Studies in the past year show that the Dead Sea, a salt lake located in the Middle East, is dying due to a lack of supply of fresh water. This deficiency has caused a 30 percent surface reduction of the Dead Sea, which currently shrinks about 3.3 feet per year. The Dead Sea was 50 miles long in 1950. The shriveling lake is now only 30 miles according to smithsonianmag.com.
The Jordan River borders the Dead Sea to the east, while Israel and Palestine border the salt lake to the west. The Dead Sea was originally part of a much larger lake that extended to the Sea of Galilee. However, this lake evaporated about 18,000 years ago, shrinking until only the Dead Sea remained. The Dead Sea is now the lowest point on earth, 1,300 feet below sea level, according to smithsonianmag.com.
The Dead Sea, translating from Hebrew as “Salt Sea,” received its name in Greco-Roman times because of its high salt levels, which prevent marine life from flourishing within its waters, according to nypost.com. The Dead Sea has ten times the amount of salt as the ocean, possessing a 34 percent salinity, according to moritz-kuestner.de. Known for its healing abilities, the Dead Sea cures injuries through minerals within its waters, including magnesium, potassium, calcium chloride, and bromide, according to nypost.com.

Tourists use the Dead Sea to help cure their injuries. Courtesy of moritz-kuestner.de.

The Dead Sea acts as a collecting bowl for fresh water from tributaries running down nearby mountains. One of the biggest providers of this fresh water is the Jordan River basin. The Jordan River is 155 miles long and flows into the Dead Sea through three dominant rivers: the Dan in Israel, the Banias in the Golan Heights, and the Hasbani in Lebanon. These three rivers join at a point near the northern Israeli border and continue south. This point marks the distinction between the lower and upper Jordan River, according to smithsonianmag.com.
According to pbs.org, in the 1950s tributaries distributed over 42o billion gallons of water into the Dead Sea every year. Today, only 53 billion gallons flow into the dying lake each year, making the average yearly loss about 112 billion gallons of fresh water. The Jordan River alone provided 362 billion gallons of fresh water every year, but today it dispenses just 39 billion gallons. The Dead Sea needs at least 160 billion gallons of fresh water annually to maintain its current size. However, the lake receives less than ten percent of this amount.
“If the drop continues, we won’t have any Dead Sea left in 2050. We will only have salt deposits absorbing humidity from the air. To maintain its current size we need to pump back at least 160 billion gallons of water a year,” professor of hydrogeology and hydrochemistry at the University of Jordan Mr. Elias Salameh said in an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Mr. Salameh has studied the Dead Sea for almost twenty years. 
The Dead Sea has shrunk by 20 miles in the past 67 years. Courtesy of moritz-kuestner.de.

Despite the Jordan River’s importance, in the 1960s, Israel built an enormous pumping station on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, redirecting water from the upper Jordan River into a pipeline to supply water throughout the country. In addition, in the 1970s Jordan and Syria began diverting the Yarmouk River, the main water supplier of the lower Jordan River, according to smithsonianmag.com.
“Half of the demise of the Dead Sea is caused by the Jordan River no longer flowing and the diversion of waters that used to run along Jordan to the Dead Sea from the Yarmouk River,” the Israeli head of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), a joint Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian environmental group, Mr. Gidon Bromberg said, in an interview with PBS. 
In addition to these actions, the Middle East’s dry and hot climate along with its growing need for fresh water have added to the reduction of the Dead Sea. The rapidly growing agriculture industry as well as the arrival of one million Syrian refugees in Jordan have increased the demand for fresh water dramatically, according to moritz-kuestner.de.
Further, mineral extraction industries have been collecting minerals found within the Dead Sea through evaporation processes. Because of this process, these industries are responsible for 38 percent of the loss of water in the Dead Sea.
As a result of this decrease, sinkholes began appearing across the new shores of the Dead Sea in the 1980s. These sinkholes form when fresh water comes in contact with salt deposits beneath the surface of the shoreline. The water dissolves the salt deposits, causing the surface to collapse. More than 1,000 sinkholes materialized in the past 15 years, and this number is likely to increase as the lake shrinks, according to smithsonianmag.com.
“The effects of the drop can be seen on all its shores in the degradation of land, erosion, landslides, and new saline shores that have started to affect roads, buildings and farming lands,” Mr. Salameh said in an interview with PBS.
Sinkholes appear as the Dead Sea begins to disappear. Courtesy of moritz-kuestner.de.

According to moritz-kuestner.de, in efforts to save the Dead Sea, Israel and Jordan signed a 900 million dollar deal in 2013 to stabilize the lake’s water levels. With the support of the United States, funds from the private sector, and regional and international partners, the 30-year-old idea will finally develop. This deal includes building a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea through the Arabah desert. This will allow Israel and Jordan to supply water throughout their countries, while additionally providing 300 million cubic meters of water to the Dead Sea.
In addition to government efforts, Friends of Earth has worked to stop the expiration of the Dead Sea. For the past several years, Friends of Earth has appealed to the public by sponsoring the numerous Dead Sea inspired exhibitions, according to smithsonianmag.com.
The group has also importuned Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority to propose the Dead Sea as a United Nations World Heritage site. This action would provide a protection plan and restrict any harmful development in the Dead Sea. Friends of Earth has also pressured the Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian governments to eliminate water policies that have negatively affected the lake’s water levels, according to smithsonianmag.com.
Furthermore, Friends of Earth, along with 21 environmental groups, has developed proposals to conserve household water use and regulate the amount of water leaving Israel’s springs. Moreover, the Israeli government is promoting wastewater treatment plants in addition to desalination facilities. The government predicts that these plans will provide approximately 106 billion gallons of fresh water annually for agricultural and domestic consumption, according to smithsonianmag.com.
Throughout the year, Sacred Heart Greenwich’s Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science class has discussed the damaging effects of human involvement in nature. The students completed a project involving the Israel Water Carrier Crisis.
“Through our research on this Israeli dam, we came to understand the value and scarcity of water. Furthermore, we learned that environmental problems are often political ones as well because governments are usually in control of the reforms,” senior Lindsay Ofori said.
In addition, Lindsay states that the death of the Dead Sea is a global issue, affecting Israeli to Sacred Heart Greenwich students. Lindsay stresses the importance of the Sacred Heart students’ involvement in environmental issues.
“I think it is imperative that Sacred Heat girls keep up with environmental issues because the only way to change them is through education,” Lindsay said. “I definitely think it is important for us to maintain and preserve the Dead Sea’s natural state because once we alter aspects of our planet’s geology, it results in a ‘domino effect,’ so to speak. Typically, when we think of the Dead Sea, we often think of it belonging to Israel. However, this problem will affect every country in the region but political differences will make it difficult for a collective approach to be achieved.”
– Elisabeth Hall, News and Photo Editor