Dead Sea

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Dead Sea
The Dead Sea 1972-2011 - NASA Earth Observatory.jpg
False color satellite images of the Dead Sea from 1972, 1989, 2011
Geographical location Israel , Jordan , West Bank
Tributaries Jordan , Nachal Ze'elim , Wadi Sdeir , Wadi Murabbaʿat , Wadi Mujib , Nachal Mishmar , Nachal Chever , Nachal Arugot
Drain drainless
Places on the shore En Gedi , Sedom , Al-Mazra
Coordinates 31 ° 29 ′  N , 35 ° 29 ′  E Coordinates: 31 ° 29 ′  N , 35 ° 29 ′  E
Dead Sea (Israel)
Dead Sea
Altitude above sea level f1−428 m (seasonally fluctuating, further decreasing due to increasing desiccation)
surface 810 km²
(northern basin)dep1
length 67 km
width 18 km
volume 147 km³dep1
scope 135 km
Maximum depth 380 m; Seeboden 800 m u. M.
Middle deep 120 m


  • deepest lake on earth
  • deepest (accessible) land on earth
  • extremely salty
  • largely bacterial life
  • local average air pressure at sea surface is approximately 1060 hPa, which is about 5% more than at sea level, whereby also the oxygen partial pressure (the absolute breathable amount of oxygen) is increased by about 5% over the sea level
Template: Infobox Lake / Maintenance / EVIDENCE AREA Template: Infobox Lake / Maintenance / EVIDENCE LAKE WIDTH Template: Infobox Lake / Maintenance / EVIDENCE VOLUME Template: Infobox Lake / Maintenance / EVIDENCE SCOPE Template: Infobox Lake / Maintenance / EVIDENCE MAX - DEPTH template: Infobox See / Maintenance / PROOF-MED-DEPTH


The Dead Sea is an outflow-free lake that lies 428 m below sea ​​level, is fed by the Jordan and is known for its high salinity . It borders with Jordan , Israel and the West Bank .

Names of waters

The name 'Dead Sea', which is used in most languages ​​today, was already used in antiquity , for example with Pausanias in the 2nd century as θάλασσα ἡ Νεκρά thálassa hē nekrá and Iustinus in the 2nd or 3rd century as Mare mortuum . In addition, the lake was also called 'asphalt lake' in ancient times, among others by Diodor and Pliny the Elder . The Hebrew name already found in the Old Testament is ים המלח Jam haMelach 'Salt Sea'. In Arabic the terms areالبحر الميّت, DMG al-Baḥr al-Mayyit 'the dead sea' andبحر لوط / Baḥr Lūṭ  / 'Sea of Lot ' common (see also ancient depictions ).


View from the ISS from an altitude of 339 km over the Dead Sea between Israel , West Bank and Jordan (September 7, 2006)


The Dead Sea is an approximately 900 km² (north-south extent approx. 90 km, west-east extent max. 17 km) large salt lake , which is located as a final lake in a depression without drainage . It is part of the Jordan Rift Valley , the northernmost branch of the Great Rift Valley . The Dead Sea is divided into a northern and a southern part. Its water surface is still often given with values ​​around 396  m below sea level ; in fact, the water level of the northern part has been more than 420 m below sea level for several years due to increasing drying out . The shore of the lake thus forms the deepest part of the earth that is not covered by water or ice ( Bentley subglacial rift ). This makes the Dead Sea the deepest lake on earth. The lake with the deepest bottom, on the other hand, is Lake Baikal . Its lowest point is 1186 m below sea level , while the deepest point of the Dead Sea is 794 m below sea level .


The climate at the Dead Sea is sunny all year round with low humidity. Less than 50 mm of precipitation falls during the year. The mean maximum temperatures are between 32 and 39 ° C in summer and between 20 and 23 ° C in winter. On average there are 192 days with a maximum temperature of more than 30 ° C. The water temperature is between 19 ° C in February and 31 ° C in August.

Salinity, flora and fauna

Salt-encrusted stones on the Dead Sea
Extensive salt crust on the shores of the Dead Sea
Salt “pebbles” on the shores of the Dead Sea (close-up). It could either be salt crystals ground round in moving water or grains of sand thickly encrusted with salt (salt ooids or pisoids ).

The salt content of the Dead Sea is up to 33%, on average it is around 28% (for comparison: the Mediterranean has an average salt content of 3.8%). Only the Lac Retba in Senegal with about 39%, the Assalsee in Djibouti with almost 35%, the Kara-Bogas-Gol in Turkmenistan with up to 34%, the Tuz Gölü in Turkey with up to 37% and some are even more salty Lakes in the Antarctic dry valleys ( Don Juan Sea , about 44%).

The mineral composition of the salt of the Dead Sea differs significantly from the salt composition of sea ​​water . It contains approximately 50.8% magnesium chloride , 14.4% calcium chloride , 30.4% sodium chloride and 4.4% potassium chloride based on the anhydrous salts. The rest is made up of numerous trace elements. It contains little sulfate , but a relatively high amount of bromide .

Due to the high salt content, the lake water has a density of approx. 1.240 kg / l.

The Dead Sea has no drain. In the dry desert climate, the water evaporates, leaving minerals, salts and other things behind and accumulating in the Dead Sea. The water level is leveled out by the inflow of Jordan water and the withdrawal of evaporation water. The water level is negatively influenced by the artificial evaporation of commercial salt extraction.

The composition of the salts in the Dead Sea is hygroscopic , which means that at moderate temperatures water from the Dead Sea never fully evaporates and no salt crusts or crystals form.

Contrary to its name, the Dead Sea is not biologically dead, but life is largely limited to various extremophiles , especially halophilic microorganisms . These belong predominantly to the domain of the archaea , but saltpetre , sulfur and cellulose- degrading anaerobic bacteria are also represented. In 2011, an unexpectedly rich variety of microorganisms was discovered in the Dead Sea, which are found in the vicinity of freshwater springs at the bottom of the Dead Sea. They form large algae and bacteria mats on the sea floor. The concentration of microorganisms per milliliter is between 1,000 and 10,000, significantly lower than in normal sea water. Some of the microorganisms discovered there were previously not known to occur in such a salty environment. Many other microorganisms were previously completely unknown to science. In 1992, microbial blooms made the Dead Sea turn red.

Some plants with great salt tolerance , the halophytes , can survive in this extreme environment.

Countersunk holes

As the level of the Dead Sea sinks, more and more deep, dangerous craters are opening up on the shore. In the past, the Dead Sea with its highly saturated saline solution covered the solidified brine layers. When the sea level fell, fresh water seeped in, which dissolves the salt layer more and more. In 2017 there were already around 6,000 sinkholes on the Israeli side alone. Mango and date plantations, a campsite, a kiosk, a beach restaurant and entire streets had to be closed to the ecological disaster.


Reading the newspaper - a popular motif

Places of interest for tourists on the Dead Sea and in the vicinity are En Bokek , Neve Zohar , the oasis En Gedi as well as Masada , Jericho and the caves of Qumran . On the Jordanian east side of the Dead Sea on the Lisan Peninsula are the places Numeira and Bab edh-Dhra (also known as Dhra ). There are assumptions that they stand on the site of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah , which according to biblical tradition were destroyed. Dhra is one of the archeologically oldest places with evidence of early agriculture (here 9500 BC). More than 20,000 Bronze Age shaft graves are suspected here, only a few have been excavated.

Bathing tourism is also important for the region. Due to the high salt content, which is almost ten times that of the oceans, and the associated high density, the water carries the human body exceptionally well; however, one can still drown. According to a report by the Red Star of David, contrary to popular opinion, there are deaths as well as many near-drowning accidents, as well as at other bathing lakes. People often lose their balance at the Dead Sea and then swallow large amounts of water. This is life-threatening as it can cause serious lung injuries. The salt causes burning pain even on the smallest skin injuries. The concentrated salt water is very unpleasant in the eyes. The incrustations of salt on the bank are often sharp-edged.

At the same time, the minerals of the Dead Sea have a healing effect on skin diseases, so that in some cases of neurodermatitis and psoriasis a stay at a health resort or climatic healing treatments are also paid for by German health insurance companies. Health resorts in Germany also offer baths in dead sea salt water. The minerals are also used in cosmetics and the salt in its original composition is a popular item in pharmacies and drugstores, often sold in packages containing several kilograms in order to achieve a high salt content in the bathtub at home.

The therapeutically useful conditions at the Dead Sea also extend to a higher air pressure (+ approx. 50 hPa or 5% higher than the pressure at sea ​​level ) and consequently a higher oxygen partial pressure . This denser atmosphere, together with the desert dust and the constant haze, due to the strong evaporation, absorbs a larger part of the ultraviolet radiation than at sea level. The short-wave UVB rays are reduced by around 30 percent compared to nearby locations 300 meters above sea level.

Panorama of the Dead Sea from the Israeli side

Ancient representations

Very early mentions of the Dead Sea, if only incidental, can be found in the Old Testament . In it, for obvious reasons, it is called 'sea of ​​the desert' or 'sea of ​​the steppe' (Hebrew: jam ha-'arabah ; Greek: Θαλασσα Αραβα, Thalassa Araba ; Latin: mare deserti , mare solitudinis ) and as 'Salt sea' or '(very) salty sea' ( jam ha-melach ; θάλασσα τῶν ἀλών or ἀλός, Thalassa ton alon or alos , Θαλασσα η αλυκη, Thalassa e alyke ; mare salis , mare salissimum ; Num 34,3.12 EU ; Num 34,3.12  EU Jos 15,2.5 EU ; 18,19  EU ). Further, immersed in the OT, the term, eastern "or the front sea '( ha-jam ha-qadmoni ; ἠ Θάλασσα ἠ προς ἁνατολας, he Thalassa he pros anatolas , ἠ Θάλασσα ἠ πρώτη, Thalassa he he prote ; mare orientale ) where the Dead Sea is contrasted with the Mediterranean Sea, which is referred to as 'the western' or 'the rear sea' ( Ez 47.18  EU ; Joel 2.20  EU ; Sach 14.8  EU ).

Pliny the Elder , a Roman historian of the 1st century AD, mentions the Dead Sea - which he calls the 'Asphaltsee' ( Asphaltites ) - at several points in his Naturalis historia : It is over 100 miles long (corresponds to about 150 km) and a width of up to 75 miles (about 113 km). In Book 5 it says: “The asphalt lake produces nothing except pitch , which is where it got its name from. He does not take in the carcass, bulls and camels float on the surface; hence the rumor arose that nothing would sink into it. ”However, this description is, quite apart from the exaggerated dimensions, misleading; because even then the Dead Sea was not an asphalt lake in the real sense. With 'bulls' and 'camels' are probably meant the 'bulls' and 'calves' that Diodoros , a Greek historian of the Hellenistic era , mentions in connection with the Dead Sea, which he also referred to as 'asphalt lake' (Ασφαλτιτις λιμνη, Asphaltitis limne ) is called. According to Diodorus, the Nabataeans living in the area around the lake did not refer to real animals, but to "pitch" floating on the water. Because this natural asphalt is a sought-after raw material, u. a. for the mummification of the dead, they drove out onto the lake as soon as such a lump of pitch appeared, recovered the asphalt and sold it “at a considerable profit”. The asphalt probably originates from a sedimentary rock (" oil shale ") that is heavily enriched in organic matter ( kerogen ) in the subsurface of the lake. From there it migrates in the highly salty pore water of the outer layers to the bottom of the lake, detaches itself in strong earthquakes and rises to the surface of the lake.

The term 'Dead Sea' (Θάλασσα Νεκρά, Thalassa nekra ; mortuum mare ), which is commonly used today, has also been passed down in writings from ancient times. This is the name of the lake in the Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum Trogi Pompeii (presumably 3rd century AD) by the Roman historian Justinus, again, very distorted. It says: “ The lake is called the 'Dead Sea' because of the size and complete immobility of its waters. Because it is neither set in motion by storms, since the pitch, by which the whole water is made viscous, withstands every vortex, nor is it navigable by ships because all inanimate objects sink into it in the depths. “Much closer to reality is the famous doctor Galenus , who in his work De Simplicium Medicamentorum Temperamentis derives the name 'Dead Sea' from the fact that“ neither animal nor vegetable life of any kind arises in the water of this lake; the two rivers that flow into it, especially the one that flows close to Jericho, harbor large numbers of fish, but none of them pass the mouth. If you catch them and throw them into the lake, it doesn't take long to see them die. "

Water level

Dead Sea water level from 1930 to 2020

In the 1930s, around 1300 million m³ of water flowed into the Dead Sea each year; today it is around 350 million m³.

It is believed that the level was around 2000 BC. At −250 m at its highest. As of January 2011, the level was 426 meters below sea level. Two years later in January 2013, due to heavy rainfall, it rose by 10 cm for the first time in ten years. Overall, however, the downward trend continued to 427.79 meters below sea level, measured in January 2014.

According to a communication from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, drilling in 2010 discovered thick salt deposits under muddy layers of sediment at a depth of 250 meters below the lake floor. This is an indication that the Dead Sea was almost completely dried up around 125,000 years ago due to climatic causes.

The Dead Sea is divided into a smaller southern part (depth 4 to 6 meters) and a larger northern part (depth over 370 meters) by the Jordanian Lisan peninsula - approximately at the level of the ancient fortress Masada . Both parts are on different levels. At their narrowest point, they are around 600 m apart and connected by an approximately 13 km long, regulated water-bearing canal (Ha'Lashon Canal) and several - hardly water-bearing - channels.

Northern part of the Dead Sea

Swimming in the Dead Sea

The northern part of the Dead Sea is threatened with gradual desiccation due to the constant withdrawal of water from the Jordan to supply Israel and Jordan with drinking water and for irrigation in agriculture. In 2007 the level was 420 m below sea level , in 2011 the level was 426 m below sea level . It has been falling by around one meter annually since the 1980s, as the inflow volume decreases with constant evaporation (the absolute volume of which decreases proportionally to the remaining surface). In the last three decades of the 20th century, the surface of the lake has shrunk by around a third. A decline in the water level to 430 m below sea level is forecast by 2020 . One consequence of this is that numerous collapse funnels form around the lake; these often arise spontaneously and later fill with brine. Currently (2011), one collapse funnel forms on average per day.

Plans to save the Dead Sea include digging a 300 km long, $ 5 billion Dead Sea Canal from the Red Sea . The water fed in through the canal could keep the water level stable, and at the same time the gradient could be used to generate energy. Scientific studies warn of the risks of such a project: On the one hand, there is a risk for the coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba , from where the water intended for the Dead Sea is to be taken. On the other hand, the mixing of the calcium-containing water of the Dead Sea with the sulphate-rich water from the open sea could lead to extensive calcium sulphate precipitation ( gypsum formation) in the Dead Sea.

Implementation of the project began in 2018 and completion is planned for 2022.

Southern part of the Dead Sea

In contrast, the level in the southern part of the Dead Sea has been rising continuously by around 20 cm per year for several years. The reason for this are large amounts of salt deposits, which are deposited on the bottom of the southern part as a by-product of industrial mineral extraction. The Dead Sea is suitable for industrial mineral extraction for the following reason: It "has an exceptional concentration of potassium , bromine , magnesium and iodine " and is therefore "not only the most salty, but also the most mineral-rich body of water on earth". In addition, "industrial and table salt and in the Dead Sea Works in Sdom potash are obtained".

While the northern part of the Dead Sea is increasingly drying up and the shoreline is retreating from the original bathing resorts and bathing areas, the bathing resorts and bathing areas in the southern part are threatened by flooding. According to the environmental scientist Alon Tal, who, along with other scientists, was commissioned by the Israeli government to find a solution to this problem, "in five to ten years there will be water in hotel lobbies".



Grain ship on the mosaic map of Madaba, 6th century.

In contrast to the Sea of ​​Galilee , the shipping, which was not continuously operated over the years, was never used for fishing due to the high salt content, but only for transport.


Pompeius Trogus , a historian of the first century BC, was of the opinion that shipping on the Dead Sea was not possible.

middle Ages

Shipping took place during the Byzantine Empire and, as shown on the mosaic map of Madaba (middle of the 6th century), served the grain trade. In the 12th century there are reports of a sea trade in dates and other foods.

With the end of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291, the era of medieval shipping came to an end. From then on, the belief prevailed again that a boat trip was not possible.

Modern times

The belief in the impassability of the Dead Sea persisted into the 19th century. The attempt of an Englishman named Costigan, who died in the process in 1835, seemed to confirm the impassability. Shortly thereafter, in 1837, the British Moore and Beck sailed the Dead Sea is successful, and in 1848 took advantage of William Francis Lynch, a lieutenant of the US Navy , the first time a ship with a metal hull. In 1908 the Dead Sea was sailed for the first time with a motorboat.

During the First World War , the 23-meter-long supply ship Adele of the German Navy sailed the Dead Sea. It was transported in individual parts by horse trailer from Haifa to the Dead Sea and was used to transport weapons, ammunition and food between the Jordanian Kerak and Jerusalem . The supplies went mainly to the allied Turkish troops who fought against the British. Other sources speak of the fact that in the First World War "over 200 ships" of the German Asia Corps supported the Turks at Be'er Scheva in the fight against the British troops of General Edmund Allenby .

At the end of the 20th century there were efforts to set up tourist shipping on the Dead Sea. The technical problem was the rapid formation of salt crusts, but above all the political difficulty was that the tourists in Jordan could not go ashore without border formalities. These improvement efforts continued until the beginning of the Second Intifada in September 2000.

Today (as of 2013) there is only one ship operator on the Dead Sea, namely Marine Services & Underwater Works in En Gedi on Israel's west bank. The company has been operating since the mid-1970s. It works primarily on behalf of research institutes. In this context, submarine dives to a depth of 200 m also take place.

Films, photographs

  • Drained - Dead Sea trouble spot . Documentary (75 min.) By German Gutierrez. Production: ARTE 2013.
  • The dead sea . Documentation (45 min.) By Alex West and Daniel Percival. Production: SWR . First broadcast: July 22, 2007.
  • Spencer Tunick : Naked Sea . Photographic action with 1200 volunteers on the bank, September 2011.


Web links

Commons : Dead Sea  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Dead Sea  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Imminent flooding: Hoteliers at the Dead Sea are forging a rescue plan. In: Spiegel Online . June 29, 2011, accessed December 13, 2019 .
  2. Othmar Keel, Max Küchler: Places and landscapes of the Bible. Volume 2, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1982, ISBN 3-545-23042-2 , p. 238 f. ( Preview in Google Book Search).
  3. New information on the lake level can be found in: Florian Neukirchen, Gunnar Ries: Die Welt der Rohstoffe. Springer Spectrum, Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-642-37738-9 , p. 229.
  4. geographic data on Lake Baikal
  5. Psoriasis RX: Dead Sea Psoriasis Treatments , accessed July 7, 2013.
  6. Papa Sow: Uncertainties and conflicting environmental adaptation strategies in the region of the Pink Lake, Senegal. Center for Development Research , University of Bonn, August 2012, ISSN  1864-6638 . Retrieved March 28, 2014.
  7. Archived copy ( Memento from November 4, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  8. Kartin Kloosterman: New Life In Dead Sea Found! Article from September 21, 2011 on, accessed January 20, 2012.
  9. Fresh water sources bring life to the Dead Sea. Spiegel Online , June 29, 2006, accessed September 22, 2011.
  10. The Dead Sea is retreating. October 3, 2017, accessed April 3, 2020 .
  11. Vladimir Struminski: Mail from Jerusalem. Gays, security, luck and danger. In: Jüdische Allgemeine, August 26, 2010.
  12. ^ Dan Even: Contrary to Popular Belief, New Report Shows You Can Drown in the Dead Sea. In: Haaretz from August 18, 2010: “Magen David Adom reports that of 117 near-drowning incidents that paramedics have attended to since the start of 2010, 17% have been at the Dead Sea.”
  13. ^ Lisa R. Saidel-Odes, Yaniv Almog: Near-Drowning in the Dead Sea: A Retrospective Observational Analysis of 69 Patients (PDF), accessed July 23, 2014.
  14. Samantha Wilson: Israel . Bradt Travel Guides, 2011, ISBN 978-1-84162-362-7 , pp. 261 ( ).
  15. That's right: Gentle Sun , Zeit Online , June 29, 2006, accessed on March 29, 2010.
  16. Sü : Question of the week: Don't you get sunburn at the Dead Sea?
  17. Deuteronomy, chap. 3, verse 17; Cape. 4, verse 49; Book of Joshua chap. 3, verse 16; Cape. 12, verse 3; 2. Book of Kings chap. 14, verse 25; see Othmar Keel, Max Küchler: Places and Landscapes of the Bible: A Handbook and Study Guide to the Holy Land. Volume 2: The South. Benziger / Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Zurich / Einsiedeln / Cologne / Göttingen 1982, ISBN 3-545-23042-2 / ISBN 3-525-50167-6 , p. 238
  18. Othmar Keel, Max Küchler: Places and landscapes of the Bible. 1982, p. 238.
  19. Keel & Küchler: Places and Landscapes of the Bible. 1982, p. 244.
  20. G. Plinius Secundus: Natural history . Book 5: Geography: Africa and Asia. Edited and translated by Gerhard Winkler, in collaboration with Roderich König. Artemis & Winkler, Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-7608-1585-5 , Chapter II, 72.
  21. ^ A b Diodor’s historical library of Sicily. Translated by Julius Friedrich Wurm. Second book, Verlag der JB Wetzlerschen Buchhandlung, Stuttgart 1828, p. 227 f. ( MDZ reader ).
  22. a b A. Nissenbaum, Z. Aizenshtat, M. Goldberg: The floating asphalt blocks of the Dead Sea. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth. Vol. 12, 1980, pp. 157-161, doi : 10.1016 / 0079-1946 (79) 90098-3
  23. H. Gvirtzman, E. Stanislavsky: Palaeohydrology of hydrocarbon maturation, migration and accumulation in the Dead Sea Rift. Basin Research. Vol. 12, No. 1, 2000, pp. 79-93, doi : 10.1046 / j.1365-2117.2000.00111.x
  24. a b Keel & Küchler: Places and Landscapes of the Bible. 1982, p. 239.
  25. a b c d Drilled in the past: Dead Sea was almost gone. , January 20, 2012.
  26. Rainy weather: the level of the Dead Sea rises. In: Spiegel Online . January 18, 2013, accessed December 13, 2019 .
  27. Sharon Udasin: Despite winter storms, Dead Sea water level continues to fall. The Jerusalem Post , Jan. 8, 2014.
  28. a b c Dead Sea - Israel's tourist attraction in danger. DerWesten , June 21, 2011.
  29. a b Jam haMelach: The Dead Sea. In: Retrieved January 20, 2012.
  30. Measurement based on satellite image, as of March 2011
  31. Eitan Hadok: Can the Dead Sea Survive? In: Spectrum of Science. June 2011, p. 79.
  32. Quoted in: Marcus Iunianus Iustinus : Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum , in turn quoted in: Othmar Keel: Places and Landscapes of the Bible. Benziger, Zurich, ISBN 3-545-23042-2 .
  33. a b c Othmar Keel: Places and landscapes of the Bible. Benziger, Zurich, ISBN 3-545-23042-2 .
  34. ^ William Francis Lynch: Narrative of the United States Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia 1850, pp. 170 ff. ( ).
  35. ^ Unterwasser , May 11, 2004 edition.
  36. ^ Journal of the Latest News from the Orient. Issue May 1918.
  37. Rosemarie Noack: New Life on the Dead Sea. Die Zeit , No. 9 from February 21, 1997.
  38. Article ( Memento from September 23, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) in the magazine unterwasser
  39. Lars Brinkmann: Thick Crust. In: Jüdische Allgemeine dated May 25, 2006. Most recent text evidence found (as of October 2013).
  40. The head of Marine Services & Underwater Works , Moty Gonen, died on February 15, 2009, see [1] . The meteorological monitoring of the Dead Sea by the Institute Israel Oceanographic & Limnological Research will be continued, information on the further operation of the ship, possibly under a different name, is not available.
  41. ^ ORF: 1200 people in a nude photo session at the Dead Sea.