The Dead Sea: Deader Than Ever

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There is dead and there is dying. The Dead Sea manages both.

It’s dead because the water in it contains way, way too much salt — eight times as much as the oceans — for virtually any living thing to survive. With a shoreline at the lowest land point on the globe — 1,388 ft. (423 m) below sea level — and no outlet, millennia of evaporation has left the seabed so caked with minerals the freshwater that flows in turns immediately lethal.(Video: Is the Dead Sea Dying?)

Not that much freshwater flows in these days. That’s why the sea is dying, or drying up, at the rate of more than 3 vertical feet (1 m) per year — which on the gradual slope of the western shore can translate into 65 ft. (20 m) of exposed seabed. Most of the damage has been done in the last half-century, when almost all the water that once reached the Dead Sea was diverted to farms and taps. The Jordan River, so mighty in the Bible, is today a puny creek that draws snarls from disappointed tourists. “Everything changed when we started diverting water from the Sea of Galilee,” says Mira Edelstein of Friends of the Earth Middle East. “The Jordan River used to bring 1.3 billion cu. ft. [37 million cu m] of water a year. Today it’s 50 million. That’s 2% of what it was.”

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