The sinkholes of the Dead Sea

By Amir Cohen, Reuters
September, 2015

The Dead Sea is shrinking, and as its waters vanish at a rate of more than one metre a year, hundreds of sinkholes – some the size of a basketball court, others two storeys deep – are devouring land where the shoreline once stood.

A section of a two-lane desert road – a main north-south artery that cuts through Israel and the Palestinian West Bank – was shut down six months ago when a gaping hole opened up beneath the asphalt.

 

Sinkholes filled with water are seen on the shore of the Dead Sea, Israel July 27, 2015. The Dead Sea is shrinking, and as its waters vanish at a rate of more than one meter a year, hundreds of sinkholes, some the size of a basketball court, some two storeys deep, are devouring land where the shoreline once stood. Picture taken July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Sinkholes filled with water are seen on the shore of the Dead Sea, Israel July 27, 2015. The Dead Sea is shrinking, and as its waters vanish at a rate of more than one meter a year, hundreds of sinkholes, some the size of a basketball court, some two storeys deep, are devouring land where the shoreline once stood. Picture taken July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Once a rarity, hundreds of new sinkholes are appearing every year, and the rate is expected to rise. Officials have not come up with a figure for the extent of the damage, but power lines have been downed, caravan and bungalows engulfed. On at least one occasion, hikers were injured falling into one of the pits.

Pipes that pump water cross through evaporation pools, which today make up the southern part of the Dead Sea, Israel July 27, 2015. The Dead Sea is shrinking, and as its waters vanish at a rate of more than one meter a year, hundreds of sinkholes, some the size of a basketball court, some two storeys deep, are devouring land where the shoreline once stood.Picture taken July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Pipes that pump water cross through evaporation pools, which today make up the southern part of the Dead Sea, Israel July 27, 2015. The Dead Sea is shrinking, and as its waters vanish at a rate of more than one meter a year, hundreds of sinkholes, some the size of a basketball court, some two storeys deep, are devouring land where the shoreline once stood.Picture taken July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

“It’s not a problem we can handle alone,” said Dov Litvinoff, mayor of the Tamar region that covers the southern half of the Dead Sea in Israel.

The sea is shrinking mainly because its natural water sources, flowing south through the River Jordan valley from Syria and Lebanon, have been diverted en route for farming and drinking water.

Relocating infrastructure is a temporary solution, the mayor said. The sinkholes will only stop when the waters of the Dead Sea are restored, and that requires an international initiative, since it also borders Jordan and the West Bank.

The sea is shrinking mainly because its natural water sources, flowing south through the River Jordan valley from Syria and Lebanon, have been diverted en route for farming and drinking water.

Relocating infrastructure is a temporary solution, the mayor said. The sinkholes will only stop when the waters of the Dead Sea are restored, and that requires an international initiative, since it also borders Jordan and the West Bank.

The Dead Sea is a favourite spot for tourists, who enjoy floating effortlessly in its highly salted waters and treating their skin with the mineral-rich mud lining its shores. But two popular beaches have been forced to close and officials fear tourism could start to be affected more seriously.

Deep beneath the newly exposed land is a 30-metre layer of salt formed over thousands of years. Without the Dead Sea waters to protect it, fresh water from rain or desert flash floods seeps underground and dissolves the salt layer, creating a cavity that eventually collapses, sucking in the ground.

Copyright Reuters 2015

 

A sinkhole is seen on the shore of the Dead SeaA utility pole stands in the Dead SeaA structure that collapsed into a sinkhole is seen on shore of Dead SeaSinkholes are seen on shore of Dead Sea A sign warning of sinkholes is seen on a fence on the shore of the Dead Sea near Ein Gedi

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