From: dave levitan, Yale Environment360
Published July 12, 2012 04:36 PM

The Dead Sea is Dying - Really!

On a quiet stretch of coastline along the western shore of the Dead Sea, a sinkhole had swallowed a piece of a road, pulling in concrete and rusted fence posts. The sea lay a short distance beyond, its turquoise-colored waters dropping at the rate of more than one meter a year.

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The sinkholes are among the most visible effects of the continuing slow "death" of the Dead Sea, which borders Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank. Thousands of sinkholes have opened up around the Dead Sea's coastal plain, threatening roads and structures alike. Near this particular sinkhole, a grove of date palms sat withered and dead, abandoned because of the dangerous ground on which they stood. On a quiet stretch of coastline along the western shore of the Dead Sea, a sinkhole had swallowed a piece of a road, pulling in concrete and rusted fence posts. The sea lay a short distance beyond, its turquoise-colored waters dropping at the rate of more than one meter a year.

"In the north and west side of the Dead Sea, there are springs, very special habitats, including endemic species, and all of them are under threat," says Eli Raz, an Israeli researcher at the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center. He notes that this area is on a major route for migrating birds and that the falling sea level is a threat to the oases on the sea's coast. "Ecology is like a chain," he says, "you don't know what will happen in the future after hurting one link in the chain today."

The Dead Sea continues to drop at an astonishing rate, largely due to water diversions from its main tributary, the Jordan River, to the north. To replenish the sea's waters, a massive public works project that would import water from the Red Sea has been proposed. A final report from the World Bank on the project is expected soon. But the proposal has faced stiff opposition on environmental and financial grounds, and conservationists have proposed other plans to restore life to one of the world's great natural landmarks. The Dead Sea is the lowest terrestrial point on the planet, sitting — for the moment — at roughly 420 meters (1377 feet) below sea level.

Water level meter in Dead Sea via Shutterstock.

Article continues at Yale Environment360.

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