As the Dead Sea dries up and shrinks at a rate of more than one meter per year, thousands of sinkholes are quickly forming along the shoreline of the Sea. It has been estimated that there were approximately 1,000 sinkholes present in the Dead Sea ten years ago, but today there are more than 3,000 of them, and their number is increasing on a daily basis .
The sinkholes range in size from the size of a basketball court to others that measure two-stories deep .
Why are the sinkholes forming?
The Dead Sea is shrinking because the water from the Jordan River that once freely flowed into the Sea has been highly diverted for farming, industry, and drinking water at upstream locations from its arrival at the ancient saline lake .
The yearly evaporation rate of up to five feet also leads to a decrease in water level for the lake. Altogether, the Dead Sea water levels have shrunk by about one-third, and are no longer being replenished by an adequate inflow of fresh water from the Jordan River .
The sinkholes are created as the Sea recedes, exposing a 30-meter layer of salt pockets lying deep beneath the land surface. As the newly exposed lake bottom is inundated with rainwater or flash floods from the desert, the freshwater seeps underground, dissolving the salt. This leads to the creation of underground cavities that collapse, and results in the creation of newly-formed sinkholes .
These sinkholes can develop relatively quickly overnight, or they can develop more gradually over time . This makes the sinkholes not only unpredictable, but potentially very dangerous for both the people and the infrastructure located on the banks of the Dead Sea.
How are the sinkholes affecting the local environment and the surrounding communities?
So far, there have not been any reports of deaths from the sinkholes, but there is always the possibility that such an event could occur .
Due to the potential hazards associated with the sinkholes, beaches along the shoreline are now being forced to close, and tourism in the area is now being seriously impacted, as the Dead Sea is considered to be a major tourist destination for tens of thousands of people every year.
Other negative impacts of the sinkholes have included downed power lines, and caravans and homes being swallowed. A few hikers have already been injured falling into the sinkholes .
What would it take to stop these sinkholes from forming?
Because of the degree of ecological damage that has occurred to the Dead Sea, it would require a great deal of planning and intervention to restore it, including international collaboration, as the Dead Sea borders Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel .
In order to stop the sinkholes from forming, the Dead Sea will need to have a high inflow of freshwater restored to it. Currently, the volume of water that is supplied by the Jordan River to the Dead Sea is only about 5% of what it once was. Even with an increased inflow of fresh water, it is estimated that it would take decades to restore the lake .
Currently, there are no major plans in place that would realistically accomplish a restoration of the Dead Sea.