Geography and Geology
The "Dead Sea" is the lowest body of water on Earth, a 50 mile long and 11 mile wide inland lake sitting 1,300 feet below sea level between Israel and Jordan. Located along the northern end of the East Rift Valley that runs through Africa, the continual outward movement of the tectonic plates are still sinking the lake today--as much as thirteen inches a year, an amazing rate of speed for a geologic process!
Tell Me About the Salt
The Sea has one inlet--the Jordan River. Being lower than sea level, however, no water can escape. Thus salt continues to accumulate while the water flowing in evaporates in the region's arid climate. The salt content of the lake is seven times greater than the ocean, and nothing, with the exception of an extremely small number of microorganisms, can live in it.
People float effortlessly in the dense water, and ships not constantly cleaned quickly accumulate large salt deposits on their hulls and sink to the bottom.
The name Dead Sea is attributed to Christian Monks, and is a derivation of the Hebrew term "Yam Hamelach" (Salt Sea.) In ancient times, the Dead Sea had several names such as "Hayam Haqadmoni" (the ancient sea), "Yama shel Sedom" (the Sea of Sodom), "Yam Ha'arava" (the Arava valley sea) and "Hayam Hamsriah" (the stinking sea - because of the smell of sulphur).
Archaeological ruins dot the area, and despite the difficulties of crossing the Sea--the high density of the water also causes even small swells to be a serious hazard--drawings as old as three thousand years show persons choosing to cross the sea rather than navigate the cliffs that surround much of the lake.
The dramatic drop of the Sea's elevation occurred as recently as two million years ago. This has caused the erosion of tunnels beneath much of the area surrounding the lake, and it is not unknown for parts of the shore to collapse without warning into these subterranean caverns.
The Dead Sea is famous, of course, for being the site of the infamous, doomed biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Today the Dead Sea is dotted with industries taking advantage of the accumulated mineral wealth and spas making the claim that the salty water and mud has cures for many ailments, including arthritis and psoriasis.
The sea is quickly disappearing, however. The influx of water from the Jordan River simply doesn't match the amount lost to the region's heat, and debate rages about whether this is a result of water diverted by industry or a natural process. Worst-case estimates indicate that the Sea will cease to exist around the year 2050.