I stood under the white hot sun at the edge of the Dead Sea, hesitating to expose my sensitive skin to the waters of one of the saltiest lakes in the world. An overenthusiastic friend of mine had already run splashing into the water, only to stumble back a few minutes later groaning about intense burning sensations. She had taken off before hearing our tour guide’s warning to slowly submerge ourselves in the water so that we could get acclimated to it gradually and test our skin’s response. After her recklessness, the rest of us took our time. I gingerly took my first step into the salty aquamarine waters. My feet felt fine, and to my relief so did the rest of my body as I slowly walked deeper into the water.
Suddenly my feet swung up from under me, and I bobbed to the surface like a champagne cork in the incredibly buoyant water. The water was so dense it was challenging to stand up. It was mostly shallow and still as glass and I was not walking in sand, but shining white pieces of salt that I could pick up and let sprinkle through my fingertips. I gave myself up to the feeling of weightlessness and slowly floated away from shore. The sensation was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I did not have to work to keep myself afloat—I couldn’t help but float and my body didn’t graze the salt beneath me even when the water was only a foot or so deep. In this valley, the lowest elevation of dry land on Earth, the natural forces of gravity and even time seemed more sluggish than usual. People floated by listlessly, barely making a ripple in the smooth water.
The near-empty waters of the Dead Sea have a salt concentration that fluctuates around 31.5%, almost nine times greater than regular ocean water. Fish and visible plant life cannot survive in these waters, only bacteria and one type of algae. Fish that accidentally swim into the Dead Sea from surrounding freshwater streams are instantly coated with salt crystals and killed. The Dead Sea is fed by rivers and streams from surrounding mountains, but no rivers drain out of it. Water evaporates at a rapid rate in this hot desert basin, but leaves behind salt and minerals. The Sea became so salty at such a rapid rate that larger organisms were not able to adapt to the harsh conditions.
The Dead Sea rests between Israel (much of it bordering the Palestinian West Bank) and Jordan. Its shores are 1,385 feet below sea level, making it the lowest elevation of dry land in the world, and also the deepest hyper saline lake on Earth. It lies in the Jordan Rift Basin and its main tributary is the Jordan River. Recently, the diversion of waters from the Jordan River has caused the Dead Sea’s water levels to shrink rapidly. In May of 2009, Jordan announced its plan to convey seawater from the Red Sea to replenish the Dead Sea. Water delivery from this project is designated to begin in 2017. Meanwhile, experts continue to monitor water levels and engage in various conservation efforts, including reducing industrial activities and pollution in the surrounding areas and increasing the flow of its main tributary, the Jordan River. Even with the dwindling water levels, it is unlikely that the Dead Sea will entirely disappear.