Scientists ponder how to refill Dead Sea without sinking tourists
Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the Dead Sea to
have their picture taken floating effortlessly in the water at the
attraction that is the lowest point on earth.
by Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent
Published: 9:00PM BST 13 Aug 2010
But the salt lake is shrinking at such a rate it will practically cease
to exist by 2050 and scientists who are desperately trying to work out
a way to refill it have hit on a snag.
A World Bank-backed scheme to pipe water more than 100 miles through a
pipeline along the Red Sea rift has been proposed as the solution to
the shrinkage of the sea, which is shared by Israel, Jordan and the
However, with a much lower salt content, Red Sea water would float on
the top of the Dead Sea and reduce the buoyancy at the surface that
Israeli scientists fear that the conundrum of how to replenish the
water without sinking the tourists could jeopardise the $15 billion
(£9.62 billion) project.
"We had a big flood in 1992 which demonstrated the problem of
introducing a large amount of water with a lower salinity into the Dead
Sea," said Michael Beyth, a scientist at the Israel Geological Survey.
"On that occasion the top five metres of the Sea was diluted by 30 per
cent. I don't think it will be acceptable to do this."
The 42 mile long and 11 mile wide Dead Sea has dropped 75ft to 1,371ft
below sea level since 1970, mainly because both Jordan and Israel have
diverted water from the River Jordan which feeds the lake for potash
plants. Scientists say levels are now dropping at around 3ft a year.
The Dead Sea's reputed healing properties have been extolled in the
literature of Aristotle and are said to have been appreciated by the
Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and Cleopatra.
Conservationists have attacked the Red Sea pipeline plans as a risky
gamble with the future of one of the planet's natural wonders. Gideon
Bromberg of Friends of the Earth Middle East said scientific concerns
were being disregarded in the rush to develop the plant. He said: "It
is our government, our politicians who want a quick decision."
Another complication is the reaction of the two types of water.
Experimental pools of water drawn from the two seas in different
proportions have been overgrown by algae.
"Mixing Red Sea water introduces sulphides which are not naturally
found in Dead Sea water. These sulphides result in algae growth that
appears to cause the water to change colour," said Dr Itai Gavrielli of
The original blueprint of the plan called for the construction of
pipelines capable of dumping two billion cubic metres of water into the
Dead Sea each year.
Mr Beyth, who has worked on the project for almost two decades, favours
a more gradual approach, with fewer pipelines introducing just 370
cubic metres into the sea to minimise potential damage.
This, however, would only slow stop the shrinkage of the water surface.
"To stabilise the water surface area you need a much bigger amount," he
said. " But if you do nothing in 50 or 100 years the Dead Sea will have
concentrated so much it will no longer evaporate."
The World Bank is due to take a decision on backing the project next
Shimon Peres, Israel's president, has long advocated developing the
lower reaches of the valley as model of peaceful co-operation with its