(Original airdate May 22, 2022)
On the other side of the globe right now, there’s a race against time to save one of the world’s great wonders: the Dead Sea. Located between Israel and Jordan, this landmark is receding at a rapid rate. In fact, scientists say its surface area is now barely half of what it was 100 years ago. Scott Thuman investigates from the Middle East and the lowest point on the planet’s surface.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
At 1,400 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is a scientific oddity, a biblical reference, and a tourist destination all wrapped in one. But it’s disappearing at an alarming rate. In other words, the Dead Sea, in some ways, is dying.
Scott Thuman: I was here just four years ago when, where I am standing right now, I would have been about 12 feet under water.
And it’s nearing a fatal point in its timeline.
Gundi Shachal: All this plane, that ground plane — it was all covered in water.
Gundi Shachal, an ecologist, has lived in the mountains above the Dead Sea for more than 40 years. From this spot, locals and travelers alike could be seen bathing in the mineral-rich mud and famously floating in this salty haven as if they weigh nothing at all.
Scott Thuman: Is this the biggest visual, the easiest way for us to understand how far down the water has gone?
Gundi Shachal: In '83, the water, the shoreline, came up to [that] building. People would leave the building and go down over a little bridge, and they were right at the sea.
Scott Thuman: So this was all a busy camping area here?
Gundi Shachal: Yes, people loved it here. People would come sometimes for the whole summer.
Scott Thuman: It’s fascinating to me that where we are right now, we’d be under water not terribly long ago.
Gundi Shachal: Yes.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Dead Sea was about 50 miles long, and needed more than 160 billion gallons of water to maintain its size. The majority of that water originating far north of Israel in Lebanon and Syria, flowing downstream into the Jordan river, which feeds the Dead Sea. But in recent decades, a series of tributaries and dams from other areas and farmers taking water for themselves has slowly choked the supply. Today, the Dead Sea is closer to 30 miles long and receives less than 10% of what it needs.
Scott Thuman: We’re at the site right now that many people consider to be where Jesus was baptized. It’s the Jordan river. Jordan is indeed just feet away on the other bank. We’re on the Israeli side. It’s a body of water that, for so long, people associated with purity. But these days, scientists tell us it is marred with sewage, saline, and agricultural runoff.
And the Dead Sea dropping about three feet a year, doing plenty of damage. Layers of other shoreline containing fresh water, when exposed to that highly-salty water and upstream runoff, mix into a toxic cocktail, eating away at land, creating massive sinkholes, big enough to buckle roads and swallow buildings whole.
Gundi Shachal: Nowadays, you cannot build anything all along the Dead Sea.
Critics also blame the disappearing sea on companies cashing in on what lies underneath.
Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace Middle East: The Dead Sea's full of very attractive, very lucrative minerals.
We met with Gidon Bromberg along the banks of the Yarkon river in Tel Aviv. He previously addressed the United Nations on Middle East water issues and told us that companies producing fertilizer by evaporating seawater do potentially irreparable damage.
Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace Middle East: We have a mineral extraction industry on the Israeli side and on the Jordanian side that are literally drying up the Dead Sea.
Scott Thuman: How bad is it?
Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace Middle East: It's probably never going to completely disappear, but already, on the northern natural basin of the Dead Sea, there is no public beaches. This whole phenomenon of sinkholes is, what we call in the environment community, nature's revenge.
So he and others, exploring ideas to save it, by possibly pumping in more water from the nearby Red Sea. But if nothing is done, he warns, this wonder of the world will someday cease to amaze.
Shachal recently raised that prospect to a group of students.
Gundi Shachal: I asked our kids, "Would you like to show your kids the Dead Sea?" Because maybe there won't be any Dead Sea anymore. They said, "Oh, we can show it to them on the computer." That was their answer. Kids that grow up, they were born here. I said, "Oh, my God, everything is lost."
In the Dead Sea, I’m Scott Thuman.
Watch Dead Sea here.
Joseph Barrett says
Great story. Here us one at home. The N.Y.P.A. ICE BOOM is killing the entire Lower Great Lakes ecosystem by stalling the natural conveyor of nutrients and sediment.
If you Google Joe Barrett Ice Boom for the truth, you can read Ice Boom Theory. Thx. JBB
Thomas Donlon says
I'm not all that familiar with the toxic element of the Dead Sea water... the runoff and chemicals. But generally the cause of the sink holes is thought to be related to the sinking level of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea over long periods of time would be where rivers would bring water that would have a tiny bit of salt in it. The waters would evaporate in the Dead Sea heat and thus concentrate the salt. Salt would even precipitate in the water and go to the bottom of the Sea forming ever deeper salt concentrations. The Dead Sea is also a rift formation where over geologic time the lake deepens and Israel and Jordon slowly move apart ... as I understand it.
The sink holes are thought to be that as humans and natural forces slow down the feed of water into the lake that underground water sources aquifers or whatever they are called then are higher on the land and therefore these underground waters flow into the Dead Sea because the pressure in the Dead Sea is less because the water is lower. It then kind of sucks in water from the adjacent land. Because this water is fresh, it then dissolves the previously deposited salt deposits under the surface and creates the gaps... which collapse to form the sink holes. Maybe I didn't describe this particularly well...