Water And Oceanography

About the Dead Sea

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"About the Dead Sea"
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The Dead Sea is a large salt lake which lies between present-day Israel and Jordan, and is famous for its appearance and role in the Biblical narrative of Jesus Christ. It gets its name because, as the lowest-lying lake in the world, it has a salt concentration several times stronger than the ocean itself, and is therefore too hostile a place for most water life to survive in.

- Cultural Importance -

The Dead Sea region has been inhabited by human groups and civilizations since prehistoric times. To the north lies the ancient city of Jericho, and to the south, if they existed, would have lain the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha (which the Biblical book of Genesis describes being destroyed by God for their sins). The Bible speaks of Jewish king David hiding nearby, and also refers to Jesus Christ's activities in the vicinity in New Testament times.

Today, the Dead Sea is well-known for its religious significance, but is also home to a number of health centres attracted by the water's high mineral content as well as the health benefits of the surrounding climate, featuring unusually high air pressure (because it is well below sea level), minimal pollens due to minimal plant cover, and so on. Israel and Jordan currently purify lake water to produce potash, bromine, magnesium, and salt (sodium chloride).

The actual name "the Dead Sea" is taken from the Arabic term for the lake, Al-Barh al-Mayyit. To the ancient Jewish people, it was know instead in Hebrew as the Salt Sea (Yam Ha-Melah), and occasionally the Sea of Death (Yam Ha-Mavet). The ancient Greeks knew it as the Asphalt Lake because of natural asphalt seeps occurring around the lake.

- About the Dead Sea -

The Dead Sea is technically a lake, not a sea, which runs to about 42 miles long and up to 11 miles wide. Its shore level is a stunning 1380 feet below sea level. Its extraordinarily high salt content (over 30%) is higher than any other body of water in the world except Lake Assal in Djibouti, Africa; the Garabogazkol Aylagy lagoon, in Turkmenistan, Asia; and several small bodies of water in the McMurdo desert in Antarctica. The salt content makes the density so unusual that it is actually difficult to swim rather than merely float in the water.

Rainfall in the region is minimal, so the Dead Sea is instead supplied mostly by the Jordan River and by a number of nearby streams. No water flows out of the Dead Sea; instead, water departs only via evaporation. Geologically, the lakebed seems to have formed several million years ago, before which it was naturally connected with the Mediterranean and therefore would have had a more normal salt content. 

- Life in the Dead Sea -

The high salt content in the Dead Sea is too great even for "saltwater" ocean species to flourish, let alone the freshwater species which can find their way into the lake through the streams which provide its water. However, there are some occasional exceptions to this rule. Small numbers of hardy bacteria and fungi species can eke out an existence in the lake's waters.

In addition, occasionally the Dead Sea floods, and its salt levels drop measurably - if temporarily. During these floods, large algae blooms can grow, as occurred in 1980 when the Dead Sea actually seemed to turn red from algae growth. There has not, however, been a similarly spectacular flood in the thirty years since.

More about this author: D. Vogt

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