The Drop Dead Beauty of the Dead Sea Environmental Disaster

The 20 million tons of salt accumulating each year at the Dead Sea's southern end endanger hotels and a major highway. A solution will exact a heavy cost, but it looks great from above

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Dead Sea 5
Ofer Vaknin and Moshe Gilad
Ofer Vaknin and Moshe Gilad

Some dangers are beautiful, especially from above. Ofer Vaknin's drone photography displays the accumulation of salt along the Dead Sea’s southern edge, between the hotels in Ein Bokek and the Dead Sea’s industrial zone. This is not the natural shoreline of the lake, but that of an artificial pool that serves the area's factories.

The sea level in the northern part of the sea drops by one meter every year, since no water flows in through the Jordan River and the various industrial facilities pump out water for their use. But in the southern basin, the problem is exactly the opposite: the sea level is rising, threatening to flood hotels and the coastal Route 90.

The National Planning and Building Council, which deals with national infrastructure projects, approved a plan four years ago to contend with this problem. It involved using bulldozers to harvest the salt in the hope that it will reduce salt deposits in the southern basin and staunch rising sea levels. These deposits currently total 20 million tons a year.

The salt collected from the bottom of the southern basin is slated to be moved to the northern half of the sea, but the plan has not yet taken off. As to why, the many explanations – or excuses – given touch on its technical complexity. Less frequently discussed is its high cost, estimated at more than 4 billion shekels ($1.17 billion). Israel Chemicals Ltd. is supposed to cover 80 percent of the cost. Harvesting the salt also entails a significant investment of electric energy, adding half a percent to the total national power consumption, with expected emissions of 130,000 tons of carbon a year.

In the meantime, the salt keeps piling up, and from a drone's point of view it's gorgeous. Problematic, but beautiful.

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