The Geology of the Dead Sea
Located between North Africa and West India, the Dead Sea region is one of the most geologically fascinating parts of the world. The rich natural history is evident in the leftovers: minerals and compounds we now use in medicine, cosmetics, and healing.
Chalk it Up to History
The bones and exoskeletons of the animals who lived here were compressed and refined over time, creating what is now layers of phosphoric chalk. Phosphoric chalk is currently an integral part of industry and agriculture. The organic materials are also a source of clay and bituminous chalk, which can be seen on the surface of the soil and are brown-black in color.
Historically, these compounds have had great importance in many ancient cultures. In the Judean Desert, Bedouin fellahs would burn the bituminous chalk for lime and reportedly related this technique to the creators of “Nebi Musa”, the holy tomb of Moses located in the area. Masada clay, often found along the cliff walls in the area, is the subject of many ancient writings and studies. Esterbon, a geographer in the first century, wrote about the belief that the clay marked the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah.
There is also a mysterious floating clay which the Egyptians used in their mummification and embalming practices.
Sulfur occurs here naturally and has been used by the local inhabitants for a variety of things, including the preparation of gunpowder for weapons and repelling snakes. Sulfur is also found between layers of lissan marl and gypsum, formed largely due to the unique climate in the region. This particular sulfur hardens rapidly and is useful for construction, sculpture, and casting. It is also used in medicine.
Minerals, Minerals, Minerals!
The Dead Sea region is the most mineral-rich area in Israel. These minerals include phosphates, natural gas, shale oil, and various raw materials. Today, the area is a site for oil drilling, as oil and petroleum are thought to be deep within the earth’s layers. Other than occasional drilling, mining is kept to a minimum to protect the natural beauty of the area.
Mount Sodom: A Giant Heap of Salt
Mount Sodom, a beautiful and somewhat strange natural structure, rises 230 meters above the level of the Dead Sea and holds roughly a billion tons of pure salt. Mount Sodom looks like a giant block of salt (and, it kind of is). It sat at the bottom of the Dead Sea and was lifted out over time by little earthquakes. The mountain has been sculpted over thousands of years by wind and by water, and continues to be shaped today.
This giant salt-lick consists of salt that’s almost ready to sprinkle on popcorn – although it would take a lot of work to get it all.
The Caves of Mount Sodom
This crazy looking mountain isn’t all it appears to be – inside, there are numerous tunnels and caverns. Although the weather here is always warm and temperate, it’s always chilly inside the caverns – even in the summer. There are constant drafts of air that whisk away the dampness that seeps through the walls of the mountain, lowering the temperature year-round.
There is an amazing number of caves and tunnels, some hundreds of feet long. This points to an interesting historical conclusion: the mountain must have been hit by huge amounts of water, over and over again. Only the largest deluges of water could have led to the formation of so many intricate passageways and rooms within the mountain.
The labyrinths and caves are still being formed today, thanks to changes in climate, rainfall, and erosion. The unusual formations within the mountain have been likened to tropical hats, mushrooms, dolmen’s and to many, Lot’s wife.
The Dead Sea Landscape
The awe-inspiring region surrounding the Dead Sea is breathtaking. The climate is unusually warm and sunny year-round, as the area is located in what is known as a “rain shadow”. The nearby Judean and Hebron Hills act as barriers against low-pressure fronts approaching from the West and from the global desert belt.
The area has extremely low humidity, and this combined with high temperatures leads to an extremely high rate of evaporation. The water that fills the Dead Sea is supplied by the nearby Red Sea as well as smaller rivers and streams – but due to the unusual geologic structure of the region, the water cannot leave the same way. Instead, it evaporates, leaving behind a high concentration of minerals and salt in the lake.
The Dead Sea region is not only beautiful, it provides a unique center for healing and industry. Preserving the area surrounding the Dead Sea is an important goal, so people from all around the world can continue to enjoy the many wonders of this magical lake.