Mission Statement | History | The Dead Sea Ecosystem

The Dead Sea Ecosystem

Tectonic Framework

The Dead Sea is situated within a unique region which is most interesting for many scientific disciplines, above all to earth sciences. At about 410 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. It is located at the center of the Dead Sea fault valley - a large feature which extends over 1000 km from the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula to the Taurus mountain in Turkey and is the most prominent tectonic feature in the Middle East. 


Tectonic map of the area

Geodynamic Laboratory

The Dead Sea is unique in the sense that it is a natural geodynamic laboratory in which the tectonic processes that take place during continental breakup can be studied in situ. Research in this area has shed light on processes through which large features on the earth's crust, such as the Rhine Graben in Europe or the Baikal Rift in Siberia have been created.

Throughout the its geological history, the Dead Sea fault valley was occupied by a series of lakes that disappeared and reappeared over time due to climatic and geological changes in the area. The last of these lakes, known as Lake Lisan, stretched from the northern Arava Valley to the Sea of Galilee. About 15,000 years ago it dried up, leaving behind what is known now as the present-day Dead Sea.

Laminated seasonal varves under the Dead Sea ( ~100m)

Climatic Fluctuations

Climatic changes have caused considerable fluctuation in the level of the Dead Sea water. Sediments were deposited in the various lakes that occupied the area as laminated evaporitic and detrital varves. These seasonal deposites (dark = winter, light = summer) also indicate climatic fluctuations and are excellent sensitive recorders of paleoseismic fault rupture and activity.

The Unique Waters of the Dead Sea

The extreme negative elevation in combination with the tectonically elevated mountains that flank the basin promotes a very arid environment marked by low precipitation and high evaporation. Water that enters the Dead Sea has no outlet in this actively subsided basin. These conditions control the physical, chemical and biological properties of the inland lake. The hypersaline Dead Sea water is dense with 30% dissolved solid, the highest salinity of any lake on Earth. The dissolved material includes high concentrations of potassium, bromine and magnesium salts, which are commercially exploited. These salts apparently constitute Israel and Jordan's most extensive natural resource.

Almost nothing can survive in this water except highly specialized green algae and red archaeobacteria which are of great scientific interest. Due to the low elevation of the Dead Sea region much of the sun's ultraviolet radiation is filtered by the deeper atmosphere. This effect, along with the lake water, is believed to be efficacious in the treatment of the skin disease psoriasis.

Red halobacteria on the Dead Sea floor at a depth of ~100m

Active tectonic processes that control all aspects of the Dead Sea have created an environment that has influenced the course of human history as the critical land bridge between the continents of Africa and Asia. The historical and archaeological associations of this area are extensive. To name but few, it is in this region that Jericho, the oldest city in the world is located, the Dead Sea scrolls were found and Sodom and Gommorah once existed. Many historians and archaeologists believe that the region has much to yield in regard to biblical understanding.

The region is thus of considerable scientific, economic and historical interest, with many important and interesting problems to study. This is why the Minerva Dead Sea Research Center was established at Tel Aviv University.