I wasn’t brave enough to don swimming trunks in front of academic colleagues and climb into the Dead Sea. Instead, I dipped a finger in an touched it to my tongue. I’m not sure if it was the bromides or some other toxic minerals, but I immediately wretched and knew that I wouldn’t be putting any Dead Sea salt on my chips. Years later, for comparison, I tried a bit of the Great Salt Lake. Disappointing, to say the least. Already by the time I’d visited the Dead Sea it was dying further. In a recent article on NBC entitled “Thousands of Sinkholes Threaten Dead Sea’s Tourism Industry,” the fate of a sea already dead grows even worse. Water is always an issue in dry climates, and the only real source for renewing Dead Sea water is the Jordan River, which is being dammed and used for human purposes, robbing the Dead Sea of its renewal. The sinkholes are a result of underground salt deposits being dissolved by fresh water as the salty matrix gets siphoned away for industrial chemical farming. Dead Sea levels have dropped 100 feet since 1980.
The Dead Sea is one of the most striking regions on the planet. It is as far as you can go below sea level and still be on dry ground (at least on the shore, that is). The air smells like sulphur and the thickness of the atmosphere at that depth protects you from the sun’s rays, despite the heat. The water is so saline that only bacteria can live there. (The article, ironically, states, “it is very difficult for animals and plants to thrive there.”) By comparison the Great Salt Lake is practically drinking water. Famously, people are unable to sink in the Dead Sea, as its salt enhances buoyancy, so that you can read a newspaper while floating on your back. Like most natural wonders, humans are destroying it. The sinkholes are prophetic, I fear.
Great evaporating beds line parts of the Dead Sea shore where minerals can be obtained without having to dig into the earth. You can buy some as cosmetics at the local mall. These mineral salts are what make the Dead Sea what it is. And it is shrinking. Satellite imagery of the Sea can bring salty tears to my eye. We’ve slowed the flow of Niagara Falls, and we’ve begun melting our polar caps. Even so, we can’t get enough water to sustain our lifestyle. It has been said that the next major war will not be over oil, but water. Even a glance at California can make me thirsty. In a rare show of cooperation, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority are building a pipeline to bring Red Sea water into the shrinking Dead Sea. I hope that this might bode well for the future in the region. Although there is no love lost between these neighbors, they all realize that something unique lies on their border, and when it’s gone it will be a loss to the entire world. That is the real Sodom and Gomorrah.