Dead Sea sinkholes growing at alarming rate
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Dead Sea sinkholes growing at alarming rate

Environmental group warns thousands of chasms have developed in the area as salt lake continues to shrink

Aerial view of sinkholes on the Dead Sea shoreline, September 30, 2010 (photo credit:Yuval Nadel/Flash90)
Aerial view of sinkholes on the Dead Sea shoreline, September 30, 2010 (photo credit:Yuval Nadel/Flash90)

Sinkholes near the Dead Sea are said to be multiplying at an exponential rate, posing a major threat to the area’s inhabitants and landscape.

The area surrounding the salt lake shared by Israel and Jordan is estimated to contain over 3,000 such cavities, as the sea continues to shrink in size due to large-scale evaporation and environmental degradation.

“It’s nature’s revenge,” environmentalist Gidon Bromberg told ABC News this week. Bromberg serves as the Israeli Director at EcoPeace Middle East, a joint Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian effort to preserve the region’s natural landscape.

“These sinkholes are a direct result of the inappropriate mismanagement of water resources in the region,” he added.

Sinkhole formation is directly related to the dropping sea levels. Receding water leaves behind salt clusters. When these are flushed away by groundwater flowing from surrounding mountains, the earth is left with hollow patches which can crumble and collapse without warning.

At more than 429 meters (1407 feet) below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point of land on the face of the Earth. According to ABC, the first sinkholes were discovered in the 1980’s, dozens had appeared by the 1990’s and today, new sinkholes are appearing on a daily basis, causing massive concern for environmentalists.

A view of the Dead Sea from Masada (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
A view of the Dead Sea from Masada (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

“They could develop overnight. Or overtime,” Bromberg said. “Making them unpredictable. And very dangerous.”

The phenomenon is also seen as a threat to Route 90, the main road between central Israel and Eilat. Earlier this month, ABC News reported, maintenance had to be conducted after a section of the road sank five centimeters (two inches).

Signs bordering the Dead Sea warn hikers of the dangers of traversing the region, as the ground is largely unstable and capable of shifting dramatically at a moment’s notice.

“If nothing is done, it’s only a matter of time until someone dies,” Bromberg warned.

The diversion of scarce water resources from the Jordan River has caused the once massive body of water to evaporate at a rate of nearly 1.45 meters (four feet) per year, as the Dead Sea receives only five percent of its historic water flow. Coupled with the diversion of water to the area’s various resorts and spas and the extraction of potash and bromide — minerals used to make fertilizers, medicine and cosmetics, among other things — the surface of the salt lake has shrunk by nearly 45% since the 1930s.

A mountain of potash at the Dead Sea Works (Photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A mountain of potash at the Dead Sea Works (Photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Last month, Jordan and Israel signed a water cooperation agreement in an attempt to save the Dead Sea from further shrinkage, connecting the lake to the Red Sea via a 200-kilometer-long pipeline that will lead 100 million cubic meters of water up north every year.

A desalination plant will also be erected north of the Jordanian tourist resort of Aqaba, and will serve both Jordan and Israel. The high-salt-content water left over in the desalination process, or brine, will be streamed into the Dead Sea.

At a cost of $250 million, the historic deal was hailed by Israeli Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom as “the most significant agreement since the peace treaty with Jordan.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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