The Dead Sea was discovered by the Israelis sometime around 323 B.C. Located in the Judean Desert area, the Dead Sea is between Jordan and Israel. The weather here is typically sunny and dry throughout the year. It is about 400 meters (1,320 feet) below sea level, this being the lowest place found on Earth. It is one of the smallest seas in the world. It is about 50 miles long and 11 miles wide.
How Did it Form?
A rift where two of the Earth’s plates are slowly spreading apart is forming where the Dead Sea is located. The East Rift Valley starts north of the Dead Sea and runs along the eastern side of Africa. The Dead Sea is located along the edge of the rift valley where the Earth’s crust is being stretched so thin. In fact, the Dead Sea is continuing to sink lower every year. Scientists estimate the Dead Sea is sinking about 13 inches every year. This is considered fast for geologists.
Why So Salty?
One of the reasons the Dead Sea is so salty is because there are no outlets. The minerals that flow into it stay there forever. Most bodies of fresh water have outlets such as rivers and streams, which allow them to dispose of any dissolved minerals that might flow into them from other sources. Most oceans and seas typically have no outlets. There are a few exceptions such as the Mediterranean Sea. It is much saltier than the Atlantic Ocean, but it loses some of its mineral-rich water through the Straits of Gibraltar. This increase in salinity occurs in all landlocked bodies of saltwater. An example of this in the United States is the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The Dead Sea holds some of the saltiest water in the world. It is almost six times as salty as the ocean. The Dead Sea is completely landlocked. As the depth of the water increases, the water gets even more salty, creating salt piles on the sea bottom. There are several rivers and streams that feed into the Dead Sea, but none that drain out. Evaporation is the only way water is released from the sea. With the hot temperatures, the water evaporates fairly quickly. As this occurs, it leaves behind any dissolved minerals in the sea, increasing its saltiness. This is the same process that made the oceans salty.
Life in the Sea
Since the water became so salty so quickly, animals did not have a chance to evolve under such harsh conditions. There is no life in the Dead Sea other than a few types of bacteria and one type of algae that were able to adapt to the otherwise deadly sea water. The water in the Dead Sea is extremely deadly to other living things. Any fish that flow downstream to the saltwater are instantly killed. Their bodies become covered with a layer of salt crystals and they can’t adapt to these conditions quick enough. The Dead Sea is not dangerous to humans, however, and they are still able to swim in it.
Around 3 million years ago, the Mediterranean Sea reached the East Rift Valley and emptied saltwater into the area. As time went by, the body of water formed became detached from the nearby lakes as the Mediterranean Sea receded. Ever since then, the Dead Sea has been continually fed water from the Jordan River and other small streams. In 1947, a few young shepherds entered a cave near the sea to find their goat that had run away. Once inside they found some sealed tubes that held the now famous Dead Sea Scrolls. They held psalms and testaments that had not been printed in the Bible. Some people believe these scrolls were written by biblical kings and prophets. Even today people argue over the accuracy of the scrolls.
The amount of salt or salinity in the water allows you to float. The density of the water is so much more than other oceans, so you can float in the water like a sailboat or fishing bobber. North of the Dead Sea is a town called Jericho, Israel. It is the oldest known human city still inhabited today.
The benefits and medicinal properties of the Dead Sea water must have been realized centuries ago. Even before Cleopatra walked the area, many people have traveled to the Dead Sea to take advantage of the benefits and healing powers of the salts and minerals. Cleopatra was very fond of the health benefits and used them in her common beauty treatments. Today there are many spas that have been built around the shores of the Dead Sea. These are extremely popular to the many tourists who come to the area to enjoy the minerals, mud and water to treat numerous aches and pains.
- Yoray Liberman/Getty Images News/Getty Images