The Dead Sea is a popular holiday spot for many. A unique landscape, it features the light turquoise waters of the extremely salty lake, the golden mountains surrounding it, and the majestic desert lying in all directions. However, lately there have been striking changes in its appearance. The water is receding from the shores, leaving behind dangerous sinkholes in its northern part. The lowest point on Earth to begin with, its surface level is dropping steadily – more than 1 meter every year. And its total area is getting smaller. In other words, it is shrinking.

Dead Sea is drying

Why is the Dead Sea shrinking?

The Dead Sea drying has many people worried. The situation has gotten so bad that some consider the Dead Sea dying. As people living in the area are being adversely affected by the changes happening to the Dead Sea, and as tourism to the area is also being impacted (some beaches have recently closed until further notice due to sinkholes), it is important to explain what is happening.

Up until the mid-20th century, the Dead Sea had been receiving fresh water from streams and rivers (such as the Jordan River). Upon reaching the Dead Sea, this water would evaporate. This evaporation, combined with the lake’s natural salt deposits, is the cause for its hyper-salinity. At that time, the evaporation rate was equal to the rate at which the fresh water flowed into the Dead Sea. But then, in the 1960s, a major pumping station was built at the Sea of Galilee which diverted water from the upper part of the Jordan River into a pipeline system serving many parts of Israel; and in 1970s Syria and Jordan started diverting water from the Yarmouk stream, which had also fed the Dead Sea, for a similar purpose. Cutting the Dead Sea from these sources of fresh water has considerably decreased the amount of fresh water that flows into it, creating a condition where water evaporates faster than it flows in.

There are other causes for the Dead Sea drying up. The heavy tourism to the area isn’t being managed sustainably; many development works are taking place in the area; and minerals are continuously being extracted from the water by Dead Sea Works, the world’s fourth producer and supplier of potash products.

How are sinkholes caused?

Other than a changing landscape, the Dead Sea shrinking has had a major, and devastating, impact on its surroundings. As the water recedes from the shoreline, fresh water from the aquifers surrounding it is also receding. In the process, this fresh water dissolves the salt deposits that are hidden under the surface. With no support, the earth above these deposits collapses – causing sinkholes to appear. In the past two decades, about 3000 sinkholes have appeared all around the Dead Sea. As they appear without warning, they can cause real danger and have so far taken down with them portions of roads, building, fields, etc. Hotels surrounding the Dead Sea are also in danger, experts believe, as are the villages and kibbutzim in the area. However, that shouldn’t prevent you from visiting the Dead Sea and enjoying its beauty and attractions: the GSI (Geological Survey of Israel) regularly monitors the area and publishes maps where all dangerous areas are marked every two years. So as long as you’re aware of the situation and paying attention to the signs on the way to Dead Sea, you will be safe.

What can be done about the Dead Sea shrinking?

The one consolation in this situation is that since the Dead Sea levels are falling, its salinity its rising; this means that at some point evaporation will slow down and a new equilibrium will be reached. The Dead Sea will not disappear, even though it will shrink considerably. However, reaching this equilibrium will probably take decades.

Unfortunately, stopping this process is very hard, if not impossible. In 2015 Israel and Jordan signed an agreement stating that they’ll invest $9 million in trying to stabilize the Dead Sea’s water level. This plan includes pumping 300 million cubic meters of water yearly into the Dead Sea, and building a canal connecting it with the Red Sea that will supply both countries with water. Hopefully, this plan will at least prevent further deterioration.

What is the Dead Sea prophecy?

Finally, a strange event that has allegedly happened at the Dead Sea recently is leading some people to believe that perhaps we don’t know exactly what’s happening: maybe it’s all because of the Dead Sea drying up prophecy. Last year, a Jewish woman named Samantha Siegel from Jerusalem, discovered that several sinkholes near the Dead Sea have been filled with fresh water and ducks and fish are swimming in them. As the Dead Sea itself is almost completely devoid from animal life, this is highly unusual, and also, as Siegel noticed, reminiscent of a prophecy from the Old Testament. In the Book of Ezekiel, it says that one day, water from Jerusalem will flow east to the Dead Sea, and when they enter it, its own waters will be healed; every live creature that will come to there will live and many fish will be swimming there. Is this what is actually happening now?

This is very intriguing, of course. But to find out for sure, we suggest that you travel to the Dead Sea and see for yourself!