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Sinkholes as deep as 80 feet form along shoreline of disappearing Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is disappearing at an alarming rate, leaving behind thousands of sinkholes that are chipping away at the coastline’s vibrant and touristy atmosphere.

The Dead Sea – which is actually a lake – is known for being almost 10 times as salty as the ocean and for having the lowest elevation on Earth. However, over the last few decades, the shoreline has become known for sinkholes that appear to just pop up out of nowhere.

More than 3,000 sinkholes exist along the banks of the Dead Sea, ABC News reported. And some of these craters dive 80 feet into the ground – the equivalent of about an eight-story building.

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director at EcoPeace Middle East, told ABC news that “these sinkholes are the direct result of inappropriate mismanagement of water resources in the region.”

The Dead Sea is robbed of 2 billion gallons of water each year because of water diverted from the lake’s main water source – the Jordan River – since the 1960s, according to the American Associate, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Mining of minerals from the Dead Sea has also contributed to the disappearance of the lake’s dense and salty water.

The 2 billion gallons of water translates to a decline in water levels of a meter every year (on average) or a total of 30 meters since 1970, according to research conducted by Duke University.

“With the Dead Sea level dropping so rapidly [a meter a year, on average], these sinkholes are inevitable,” said Mark Wilson, a geology professor at the College of Wooster.

While researchers have agreed on different hypotheses, not many disagree that the declining water levels are behind the phenomenon.

David Ozsvath, a professor of Geology at the University of Wisconsin, said beneath the clay-like surface layer are cavernous spaces that are filled with water. However, as these subterranean spaces dry up with the receding water levels, the surface layer can collapse into the emptied space creating chasms along the banks.

Ozsvath said some sinkholes form over time, while others appear overnight. An earthquake or even heavy rain can cause a sinkhole to collapse into the drained voids in the subsurface.

He added that the number of developing sinkholes could be reduced by diverting less water from the Jordan River and allowing water levels in the Dead Sea to rise.

Geologist Eli Raz of Israel’s Dead Sea and Arava Research Center, who has studied these sinkholes in depth, said in a research paper that the largest sinkhole to date is about 80 feet in depth and 130 feet in diameter. These sinkholes can also collapse into one another, forming larger, more dangerous craters.

According to Mark Wilson’s blog, sinkholes often appear as small, round holes. But, he said, “looking inside, we could see that there is a significant room-sized cavern underneath. Soon the roof will collapse and a new mature sinkhole will appear.”

Many of the once-bustling tourist beaches are now left desolate due to unstable conditions, according to the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. ABC reported that a 300-meter section of road was closed in February due to sinkholes, and it could take between six to 12 months to repair.

In Mark Wilson’s blog, he explained that the canyon in the image above may have formed in less than three months. “This little canyon is cutting through Dead Sea sediments that are exposed by the rapid fall of water level,” Wilson said in his post.


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