The BBC has reported on some recent research presented at the 2011 AGU fall meeting which suggests that the Dead Sea may well have dried up, perhaps completely, 120 thousand years ago. Scientists have drilled 460 metres into sediment beneath the Dead Sea (close to the lakes deepest section) in order to analyse lake history and regional climate conditions hundreds of thousands of years ago from evidence revealed in the sediment layers. In this core, at a depth of 235m, corresponding to 120,000 years ago they found a layer of small, rounded pebbles suggesting a lake beach at that location during this time, i.e. the water must have been close to completely gone.
The Dead Sea, which is the lowest land point on Earth, sitting over 400 metres below sea level, has extremely salty waters. A natural control exists such that during warming evaporation increases causing a lowering lake level which results in more saline water and therefore a slowing of evaporation, thus making it difficult to completely dry the lake.
Currently the lake is lowering at a rate of 1.2 metres a year due mainly to human influences (as discussed in a previous post). This recent finding, if proven correct (note at time of writing it has not yet been subjected to the scientific peer-review process), demonstrates extremely low lake levels are possible even without human interference, further raising concerns for the lakes future.
This research project could well shed light on climate and earthquake events reported to have occurred during Biblical times.
“We see a lot of these different stories in the Bible about fat years and lean years,” said Steven Goldstein, a geochemist at Columbia University in New York. “And we can see in the record that there were these intervals where it looks like it was a land of milk and honey, and there were intervals where there was no water, no rain and I’m sure, famine. Climate validates that there were these rhythms.” [source].