AMMAN — A project to preserve the shrinking Dead Sea by replenishing it with Red Sea water cannot stop the salt lake from diminishing further without altering its unique qualities, a recent study indicated.
The Dead Sea modelling study, which examined the potential impact of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project on the lake's environs, found that the biological, geological and chemical characteristics of the Dead Sea would not be "greatly influenced" if fewer than 400 million cubic metres (mcm) of seawater were channelled into the rapidly shrinking lake each year.
However, the study determined that more than 700mcm of additional water per year is needed in order to stabilise water levels in the salt lake, adding that larger inflows would need to be introduced "very carefully while monitoring the response of the system to the dilution".
The report warned that the development of stratification (the separation of waters with different salinity, density, or temperature), which could be caused by a large influx of added water, may increase the rate of sinkhole formation.
According to conservationists, sinkholes are created when water coming from surrounding mountains to compensate for lost water in the Dead Sea dissolves underground salt deposits, creating massive cavities.
The study, which was completed in August, also examined the state of the Dead Sea in the event of a "no action" scenario, examining how the water level, water balance and chemistry of the Dead Sea will evolve in the future if the Red-Dead project is not implemented.
"The Dead Sea’s level in the coming decades is expected to continue to decline at a rate of 1.0-1.2 metres per year," the report concluded.
In the longer term, the rate of decline will gradually decrease. The salinity, density and temperature of the Dead Sea will continue to rise, however, while halite (rock salt) will continue to precipitate and accumulate on the Dead Sea's floor, according to the study.
"Conditions for life in the lake will become increasingly difficult," the report added.
The study is part of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Programme, which entails five interrelated studies, also including a feasibility study, an environmental and social assessment, a study of alternatives and a Red Sea modelling study.
The study covered several issues in the geology and biology of the Dead Sea, such as gypsum precipitation, biological blooming, limnology and meteorology, remote sensing, surface and groundwater flows, and the development of sinkholes.