Sinkholes in the Dead Sea Region

SinkholesThe Dead Sea Region in southern Israel, where Masada is located is prone to a phenomenon called “sinkholes.” A sinkhole is also called a shakehole, sallow hole, doline, swallet and cenote which describe a hole or depression in the ground caused by the collapsed upper surface above an empty space that has formed below ground. This can happen when carbonate mineral rich rocks (Limestone, gypsum, basalt or dolomite for example) dissolve beneath the surface. The rock dissolves because there is a lack of subterranean drainage so that fresh water moves slowly beneath the surface corroding away the soft rock. In the Dead Sea Region cavernous spaces beneath the ground are formed as the level of the Dead Sea drops and subterranean water dries up or when the sedimentary rock is dissolved by rising fresh groundwater.

The sinkholes vary in size from one to several hundred meters in diameter. The chasm left in the ground can be lined with soil or bare bedrock. The holes can open up slowly over time or can suddenly collapse. The ground can appear perfectly safe as the chasm is forming beneath the surface and then for no apparent reason the ground can collapse. An earthquake, heavy rainfall, floods or the steps of a person could trigger the collapse of the surface layer and form a sinkhole. Sinkholes appear is several locations across the globe (UK, Papua New Guinea, Venezuela, China, Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, USA etc).

Causes of Sinkholes in the Dead Sea Region

Sinkholes have been a hazard in the Dead Sea region since about the 1970s. Reports from 2015 bear headlines like “Looming SinkholesEnvironmental Catastrophe”, “Sinkholes as Deep as Eight-Story Buildings” and the “Dying Dead Sea.” The Dead Sea is evaporating at an alarming rate leaving behind unstable surrounding land where sinkholes could appear at any moment. Water levels in the Dead Sea have dropped by about 30 meters since the 70s. Most experts believe that the sinkholes are the result water from the Jordan River being diverted from reaching the Dead Sea and used for other purposes. Together with the mismanagement of water from the Jordan the mining of Dead Sea minerals has also been blamed for the drop in Dead Sea water levels and hence the appearance of sinkholes. Geologists claim that with the rapid drop in water levels of approximately a meter a year the sinkholes are inevitable. As the water level drops cavernous spaces filled with water beneath the earth’s surface dry up and the surface layer collapses into the empty space. Sinkholes are also formed when the Dead Sea water recedes and fresh groundwater rises up dissolving the layers of salt, creating underground chasms. Many of the sinkholes appear along the seismic fault lines of the Jordan Rift Valley where the salts in the earth are less stable and more susceptible to invading freshwater.

The Dead Sea coastline is shrinking and sinkholes are appearing as if out of nowhere on a progressively more regular basis. In 2015 approximately 3,000 sinkholes of various sizes were counted in the Dead Sea Region. The largest sinkhole found in the Dead Sea Region has been 24.3 meters by 39.6 meters but it is possible for smaller sinkholes to join forming a larger chasm.

Sinkholes and Visiting the Dead Sea Region

Environmentalists have warned that the thousands of sinkholes and the receding coastline of the Dead Sea pose a threat to route 90 which runs along the shore of the Dead Sea. The sinkholes also endanger local human inhabitants, animals, the landscape and any future railway line connecting Tel Aviv with Eilat on the Red Sea. The Israeli Director at EcoPeace Middle East, Gidon Bromberg called it “nature’s revenge” for human abuse of the natural resources. Experts are looking for ways of predicting where sinkholes may appear in order to avoid accidents. So far no one has died because of a sinkhole but several people have fallen into sinkholes, been injured and needed recuing. There is one point all of the experts agree on and that is that the sinkhole phenomenon in the Dead Sea Region is caused by man and is not a natural occurrence. Although sinkholes may sound frightening and dangerous you have nothing to fear if you stick to the sign posted routes and don’t wander off into the desert or along unmarked routes. In areas where there are known sinkholes or where experts think they are likely to occur you can see clear signs and barriers blocking entry by hikers or cars.


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