The Dead Sea is not really dead. Freshwater springs are still feeding the rapidly drying body of water.
A collaborative team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and the Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology in Germany used highly skilled divers to observe the springs and undersea life. The scientists knew the springs and the organisms that grew around them were there, but they has never been able to observe them directly.
“While researchers have known for decades that the ‘Dead’ Sea was a misnomer, the rich variety of life as evidenced in the vicinity of the springs was unexpected,” said Danny Ionescu of the Max Planck Institute in a press release.
“While there are no fish present, carpets of micro-organisms that cover large seafloor areas contain considerable richness of species,” Ionescu said.
“The micro-organisms in the Dead Sea water mainly belong to the domain Archaea and they number around 1,000 to 10,000 per milliliter, much lower than regular sea water,” said Ionescu. “Never before have microbial mats/ biofilms been found in the Dead Sea and not much is known about sediment micro-organisms in the Dead Sea.”
The Dead Sea itself is dying. The salty sea has been shrinking by about three feet per year because its main source of fresh water, the Jordan River, is used to give drinking water to Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians. The famous Jordan River, site of Jesus’ baptism, is siphoned off just below the Sea of Galilee.
The freshwater springs studied by the researchers keep the Dead Sea from disappearing even faster. The springs burst forth from craters that are up to 45 feet (15 meters) in diameter and 60 feet deep (20 meters).
“By developing a measurement system for these springs, we will be able to determine more accurately how much water is actually entering the Dead Sea,” said Jonathan Laronne of Ben Guiron University.
The team plans to return to the bottom of the Dead Sea in October.
The Dead Sea. (Wikimedia Commons)
Fresh water springs bubble up from the depths of the Dead Sea. (Christian Lott/the Hydra Institute)