The Dead Sea (Arabic: البحر الميت About this sound al-Baḥr al-Mayyit , Hebrew: יָם הַמֶּלַח, Yām HaMélaḥ, “Sea of Salt”, also Hebrew: יָם הַמָּוֶת, Yām HaMā́weṯ, “The Sea of Death”), also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Its surface and shores are 423 metres (1,388 ft) below sea level, Earth’s lowest elevation on land. The Dead Sea is 377 m (1,237 ft) deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. With 33.7% salinity, it is also one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, though Lake Assal (Djibouti), Garabogazköl and some hypersaline lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica (such as Don Juan Pond) have reported higher salinities. It is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which animals cannot flourish, hence its name. The Dead Sea is 55 kilometres (34 mi) long and 18 kilometres (11 mi) wide at its widest point. It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River.
The Dead Sea has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. Biblically, it was a place of refuge for King David. It was one of the world’s first health resorts (for Herod the Great), and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from balms for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilizers. People also use the salt and the minerals from the Dead Sea to create cosmetics and herbal sachets. In 2009, 1.2 million foreign tourists visited on the Israeli side.
The Dead Sea seawater has a density of 1.240 kg/L, which makes swimming similar to floating.
The Dead Sea is an endorheic lake located in the Jordan Rift Valley, a geographic feature formed by the Dead Sea Transform (DST). This left lateral-moving transform fault lies along the tectonic plate boundary between the African Plate and the Arabian Plate. It runs between the East Anatolian Fault zone in Turkey and the northern end of the Red Sea Rift offshore of the southern tip of Sinai.
The Jordan River is the only major water source flowing into the Dead Sea, although there are small perennial springs under and around the Dead Sea, forming pools and quicksand pits along the edges. There are no outlet streams.
Rainfall is scarcely 100 mm (4 in) per year in the northern part of the Dead Sea and barely 50 mm (2 in) in the southern part. The Dead Sea zone’s aridity is due to the rainshadow effect of the Judean Hills. The highlands east of the Dead Sea receive more rainfall than the Dead Sea itself.
To the west of the Dead Sea, the Judean Hills rise less steeply and are much lower than the mountains to the east. Along the southwestern side of the lake is a 210 m (700 ft) tall halite formation called “Mount Sodom”.
Fauna and flora
The sea is called “dead” because its high salinity prevents macroscopic aquatic organisms, such as fish and aquatic plants, from living in it, though minuscule quantities of bacteria and microbial fungi are present.
In times of flood, the salt content of the Dead Sea can drop from its usual 35% to 30% or lower. The Dead Sea temporarily comes to life in the wake of rainy winters. In 1980, after one such rainy winter, the normally dark blue Dead Sea turned red. Researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem found the Dead Sea to be teeming with a type of algae called Dunaliella. The Dunaliella in turn nourished carotenoid-containing (red-pigmented) halobacteria, whose presence caused the color change. Since 1980, the Dead Sea basin has been dry and the algae and the bacteria have not returned in measurable numbers.
Many animal species live in the mountains surrounding the Dead Sea. Hikers can see camels, ibex, hares, hyraxes, jackals, foxes, and even leopards. Hundreds of bird species inhabit the zone as well. Both Jordan and Israel have established nature reserves around the Dead Sea.
The delta of the Jordan River was formerly a jungle of papyrus and palm trees. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described Jericho as “the most fertile spot in Judea”. In Roman and Byzantine times, sugarcane, henna, and sycamore fig all made the lower Jordan valley wealthy. One of the most valuable products produced by Jericho was the sap of the balsam tree, which could be made into perfume. By the 19th century, Jericho’s fertility had disappeared.
The Dead Sea’s climate offers year-round sunny skies and dry air. It has less than 50 millimetres (2 in) mean annual rainfall and a summer average temperature between 32 and 39 °C (90 and 102 °F). Winter average temperatures range between 20 and 23 °C (68 and 73 °F). The region has weakened ultraviolet radiation, particularly the UVB (erythrogenic rays), and an atmosphere characterized by a high oxygen content due to the high barometric pressure. The sea affects temperatures nearby because of the moderating effect a large body of water has on climate. During the winter, sea temperatures tend to be higher than land temperatures, and vice versa during the summer months. This is the result of the water’s mass and specific heat capacity. On average, there are 192 days above 30C (86F) annually.