Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Geographical Oddity of the Dead Sea

Asia is a continent of extremes. Not only does it have the highest mountain but the lowest surface point. That point of 1,316 feet below sea level is the Dead Sea. The sea is well known for its saltiness and its medical benefits. As part of Geography Awareness Week 2007: Asia, let us take a quick look at this geographical marvel.

What is now the Dead Sea was once connected to the Red Sea starting around three million years ago. Around two million years ago the land arose significantly enough to cut off the interior body of water from the Red Sea. The Dead Sea's predecessor, Lake Gomorrah, was larger than the sea today but as the climate changed the lake became smaller and smaller. The salt had no where to go and the lake became saltier.

Today the Dead Sea about thirty-five percent salt (about nine times more than the ocean). Salt is so prevenlant that no complex life can live in the sea and the nearby landforms are formed from halite. The sheer amount of salinity allows for people to float on the surface.

The sea air, mineral water, and low ultraviolet radiation among other factors allows the Dead Sea to be a health retreat. King Herod the Older made a health spa along the shores for his benefit.

History has many sites along the coast. David hid from Saul here, Cleopatra had cosmetic factories nearby, Egyptians obtained embalming chemicals for their mummies from the sea, Masada and the cell of John the Baptist are close as well. And who can forget the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea has been shrinking lately. In the past few decades the sea has dropped more than seventy feet. The reason is because the only feeder, the Jordan River, is being irrigated for drinking, economical, and agricultural purposes. The Dead Sea Canal project has been proposed to stem the drop and hopefully refill the Dead Sea. However, geopolitics, economics, and chemistry are obstacles in the projects way.

The Dead Sea has survived millions of years of geological and climate change. Simple chemistry will prevent it from completely evaporating even if more water is pumped from the Jordan. However, environmental planning should be done to save this historical and geographical marvel.


Sarah Jane said...

I want to let your readers know about some Asia resources this Geography Awareness Week. My Wonderful, a National Geographic led-campaign to promote geographic literacy and global education, has collaborated with a number of partners (e.g. ESRI, Smithsonian, Google Earth) to produce a series of KML tours and interactive quizzes about Asia. Check them out via the My Wonderful homepage "Passport to Asia: Continent of Contrasts."

Thanks for doing your part to educate about Asia this Geography Awareness Week. You've posted some fascinating stuff!

Gloria R. Reed said...
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