Unprecedented Shrinking of Dead Sea at Lowest Point on Earth
(11 Aug 2019) LEAD IN:
The sea at the lowest point on land on Earth - the Dead Sea - is shrinking faster than ever before.
As the shoreline edges ever forward, formerly waterfront hotels and restaurants are being abandoned to the sand and the salt.
For locals who rely on the sea and the surrounding landscape, the unprecedented evaporation needs to be urgently addressed.
At 429 metres below sea level, the Dead Sea is smaller - and saltier - than ever before.
Tourists still flock to some points along the Dead Sea shoreline, to swim in its clear, buoyant water.
But just getting to the shoreline takes a lot longer today than it used to.
Here at Ein Gedi, the beach is now almost two kilometres away from where it once used to be.
For tourists, that can mean a long walk in the sun.
For some visitors, the water - and mud - at the end of the trek is reward enough.
But as the level of the shoreline has receded, that’s exposed salt layers that dissolve in freshwater.
Since the 1980s that’s led to the appearance of sinkholes - or “pits” - appearing in places along the beach.
In some places, the pits are now so prevalent that public beaches have been closed down.
Further along the shoreline, these abandoned water slides hint at the damage.
Sinkholes here have made this land unsafe for visitors and locals alike.
They have wreaked havoc to beaches, campgrounds, farms, homes, resorts, and roads.
For local Gundi Shachal, the retreat has made large swaths of her kibbutz uninhabitable.
“It was like paradise once,” she says.
“You can see around here it was a camping for tourist, it was really really lively, a green garden, lots of tourists coming here, staying here. Lots of Israelis still remember the place they used to come for holidays here. Look what a mess this place is! We can’t even approach the place to clear it up. We can’t clean anything or take anything out, cause you’re always in danger of collapsing, or falling into a sinkhole.”
Up and down the Dead Sea, it’s a similar story.
At Lido, old restaurant buildings lie crumbling too.
Locals share stories of the changes they’ve seen.
“I came the first time in 1979, summer 1979, and when I arrived the first time to the Dead Sea, the sea came right up to the roads where the bus turns right. And I thought wow, I can touch the sea. Now at the same spot you can hardly see the sea,” says Shachal.
According to geologists at Hebrew University, the Dead Sea today is retreating at an unprecedented pace.
In 1980, the Sea was 400 metres below sea level, but it’s receded a further 30 metres since.
Experts say damming and mineral extraction are the main culprits.
Mordechai Stein, a geology professor at Hebrew University, says dams are drying out the rivers that used to flow into the Dead Sea.
He says the rivers once contributed 1,300 million cubic metres of water annually, which is four times the amount today.
The diversion of the waters originating in Mount Hermon accounts for 70 percent of the retreat, according to Stein.
The remainder, he says, is caused by potash plants on both the Israeli and Jordanian sides, which dry out sections of the lake in order to extract minerals.
A drop in rainfall in recent years hasn’t helped either.
Stein also says droughts are likely to proliferate in the region in future, due to climate change.
“The natural changes in the elevation in the water level of the Dead Sea never reached this modern retreat which is more than one metre per year,” he explains.
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