Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas at the Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea
In the desert
Imagine walking through the desert in hope of finding water, and instead reaching the Dead Sea. It lies 400 km below the level of the planetary ocean. Its water feels like oil. The skin on the face hurts when one first enters the water, and it’s beyond painful when the water enters the eyes. The dead sea looks like a sea and even has waves, but nothing lives in it other than bacteria.

For our traveler, all hope would not be lost. Even one of the saltiest water bodies on Earth, has rivers with fresh water than flow into it.  We found one! 

The raft
Water flowing into the Dead Sea
For a more thorough search for fresh water, one can either walk along the shore of the sea or build a raft. We found raft! It was built from empty water bottles.  Next to it, there was a bigger boat with a flag. The fancy person (or the Israeli army) who owns the vessel could have been using this raft to reach it. On second thoughts, the army actually had planes flying overhead and thus did not seem to lack equipment. Perhaps it floated from some other place or the person who owned the boat liked to save money, and also thinks that falling in the dead sea is good for the skin. Either way, we enjoyed investigating it. Since I was certain I would not enjoy falling in the Dead Sea water, which does have waves, I did not attempt floating on this raft. 

Dead Palm Trees.  Not enough Water.
The Dead Sea does not all belong to Israel. On the other side of its shore we could see Jordan.  The West Bank (the Palestinian territory that is in part controlled by Israeli military and borders Israel) also contains significant Dead Sea Shore. It is considered unsafe and people there have about 10 times lower GDP per capita than in Israel.

We did not drive further to see the Sea of Galilee. Even though it is called “a sea”, it has fresh water. Its water eventually flows into the Dead Sea through the river Jordan. The Jordan flows through the desert. Rivers that flow through such arid territory gather lots of salt.  This salt is being dumped in the Dead Sea. 


Next to Dead Sea, we found a place with salt and mud. The ground had an interesting structure with many deep holes. Salt looks like ice. There was a small salty pond where the water looked frozen. 

Walking on water & salt.
Mihai was able to walk on the salty water, and made me take pictures of that accomplishment. There were once several old ladies in a small village in Romania who were so amazed by his memory and intelligence that they fell on their knees in front of him and called him a miracle of God. If they were still alive, they would be interested in seeing this picture. I will always love my brother, but my devotion is not enough to fall on my knees in front of him as of yet - especially on salt where walking barefoot feels like walking on needles. I also know that he would have sunk had he tried to walk in the middle of the pond. 

The saltiest place on Earth is …. NOT the Dead Sea, but instead a little lake in Antarctica called the Don Juan Pond and it makes perfect sense! A water body in the dessert cannot be saltier than the Dead Sea because once the water has reached its maximum salt concentration, the extra salt deposits on rocks. This salt is sold as bath salt across the world.  Antarctica is cold. So, the concentration of salt that water can have there is higher.

What happened in the past?
 Ships had once docked here.
Once upon a time the Dead Sea was a regular sea.  It slowly became saltier and saltier until it reached the maximum possible salt concentration. Since water (with salt) does not flow out of the Dead Sea, it will stay salty. The Dead Sea shrinks because water from the Jordan river is now used for irrigation. We were now standing in places where ships had been docked. Scientists consider putting water from the Mediterranean sea in the Dead Sea, but they decided against it because it could turn the Dead Sea opaque.

What does the future hold?
Are Seas like the Dead Sea our future? Well… not for a long time. All other seas communicate with the planetary ocean, and that lowers their salt concentration. An example of a Sea that could become like the Dead is the Caspian Sea, but it is saved by a gulf that takes away some of its salt, and makes it fit for life. However, if the magnetic field of the Earth was lower, then we could lose Hydrogen through the atmosphere, and the water evaporated would no longer return to Earth. All seas would become saltier, and saltier, and all life forms from the water would die.

Epilogue

 It was nice to visit the Dead Sea, but I do not think I would like to be living in the desert close to the Dead Sea. The tents with beds and nothing else did not look inviting to me. OK, they must have had a place to wash somewhere with salt-less water and there were some fancy hotels nearby, too. But I still prefer a sea with water that feels like water. Because it is so salty and salt absorbs water, the Dead Sea water evaporates harder than regular water and gives an oily feeling. Clothes wet with Dead Sea water take a longer time to dry. When the water does evaporate it leaves a thin layer of salt behind even on the skin. 

We brought some Dead Sea water and salt home for the children to play with. Both are heavy. 
The water is heavier than regular water because of all the salt.  They have tried to reproduce the dead sea water from the right concentration of Dead Sea salt & tap water, and have also used the water to melt snow.

 My bag was very heavy (EasyJet has no weight limit for carry-ons) and I was not sure what I had in it until Mihai reminded me of the Dead Sea water (all in recipients of 100 ml or less) and salt. They sold Dead Sea salt in the airport, but ours was cooler: it came directly from the source in big boulders! It was not grainy and common like all bath salts. It consoled me to know that I carried a value of $20+ dollars in salt. 400 grams of Dead Sea salt sold for $8. My shoulder stayed bruised for some time.

I am not planning to sell the Dead Sea water or salt because it was hard to carry. I am, however, unsure I want to bathe in it. It is still uncertain of how one proves its positive properties. If nothing lives in such water, then how can it be so good for the skin?

1 comment:

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