Salt and the Dead Sea

Salt and the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea doesn’t sound like it would be a very happening kind of place, does it?

Let’s find out some interesting things about this ancient land-locked lake.

arrow pointing to dead sea on map of israel

Located in the country of Israel on the border of Israel and Jordan, The Dead Sea is recorded to be the lowest sea, coming in at 430 meters below sea level!

That translates to 1,412 feet below sea level. This makes its shores the lowest land elevation on the planet! 

Not only is it the lowest spot on the earth, it’s also the deepest salt water lake on the earth. Its deepest part goes down a whopping 1,003 feet!

It’s an ancient inland sea mentioned in the bible. Renowned for its healing properties due to its high mineral content, it’s been a go-to destination for thousands of years.

Even the Roman Emperor Herod the Great used to make trips to the Dead Sea.

Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, frequently paid visits to the Dead Sea as well. She was interested in making cosmetics from the minerals found in the water and the mud.

a dead sea mud bath

It was essentially the first health resort all the way back in their time!

This would have been from about 37 BCE to the preset day. There are several health spas now located along the shores.

Why is it called the Dead Sea?

The name has a lot to do with the fact that the salt content of the water is so high, nothing can really live there.

Animals like fish can’t survive in the extreme salty conditions. Even salt water fish find it too salty! And plants don’t grow in it or along its banks.

It is not completely devoid of life, even as the name suggests.

There are some types of bacteria and fungi that can survive in the salty waters. Some of the bacteria, in the right conditions, will turn sections of the normally beautiful blue waters red!

large chunks of salt on the shore of the dead sea in israel

The Dead Sea is almost 10 times saltier than the ocean!

It’s been referred to by many names throughout history. In Hebrew it’s called Yam ha-Melah, which literally translates to the Sea of Salt. Other names are the Salt Sea, the Sea of the Plain, the Primordial Sea, the Stinking Sea…

That last one probably has to do with the fact that part of the water which now feeds the sea comes from natural thermal springs loaded with sulfur. This mineral has a very distinct odor. It’s been compared to rotten eggs. Gross!

Why is the Dead Sea so salty?

Much of the salt content of the Dead Sea comes from the rocks eroding on the shores. The shores are made up of rock salt and other rocks with a high mineral content.

As the rocks and the salt erodes from the shores the stuff that makes up the rocks ends up in the water.

Part of where it came from has to do with how the land-locked sea was formed.

The plains of this area of Israel used to be flooded regularly by the high tide of the Mediterranean Sea.

Way back in time, going back about 3.7 million years ago, it was a salt water lagoon. Through geological upheavals from the Arabian and African tectonic plates the sea was cut off from the Mediterranean.

In the harsh desert environment, water evaporated, leaving behind the salty remains that are still there today.

The Jordan River feeds the Dead Sea, and since there is no outlet for the water, it mixes with the salt and evaporates and the process continues.

It’s been an important part of many lives throughout history. Egyptians used asphalt from the shores in their mummification process.

A weird fact about the Dead Sea is that it continually spits out little pebbles of asphalt.

And potash has been provided by the sea for centuries to be used as a fertilizer in the surrounding countries. It’s one of the leading producers of fertilizer in the world.

salt in wooden bowl with spoon

During Roman rule, soldiers were actually paid in rock salt! Salt was such an important commodity in those days. And the Dead Sea has an abundance of it!

Of course, we all know how important salt is in the food we cook. Salt enhances the flavor of meats, vegetables, and even fruit!

Our diets would taste really bland without this important mineral. Not only does salt make our dishes tasty, it contains important compounds that are essential to our health, inside and out!

people floating in the dead sea israel

An interesting thing about the Dead Sea is almost anything will float on the water. People visit the location just for that, aside from the health benefits of the water and the mud. It’s a go-to destination just to float in the Dead Sea.

The reason is the water, because of its high salt content, actually has a higher density than the human body. You can float effortlessly in as little as 1 foot of water!

Even though the water is essentially “thick” you could still drive a boat through it. It’s not recommended though. Mainly because salt water is really hard on things like metal. And boats will move much slower through the water.

And beware if you have any cuts on your skin! It’ll sting like crazy to get that salty brine in an open wound!

The Dead Sea is an amazing place.

You can explore more about Israel in your Explore Israel in a Week lesson plan as you enjoy delicious dishes from our Israel box!

Pass the salt!


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