Sediments found after drilling into the core of the Dead Sea have revealed that the lake almost disappeared 120,000 years ago.
In late 2010, a consortium of investigators drilled two cores into the Dead Sea’s bed. One of them was centered close to the very deepest part of the lake.
At 235m down, the scientists hit a layer of small, rounded pebbles – what the team believes are the deposits of an ancient beach.
Given the location of the core, this would suggest the Dead Sea had a complete, or near, dry-down at some point in the past.
Formal dating of the core sediments has not yet been completed, but their pattern leads the team to conclude that the dry-down occurred in the Eemian. This was a stage in Earth history when global temperatures were as warm, if not slightly warmer, than they are today.
Scientists say this is a discovery of high concern because it demonstrates how the warming climate will affect the lake when water levels have already been dropping rapidly in the past few decades.
“The reason the Dead Sea is going down is because virtually all of the fresh water flowing into it is being taken by the countries around it,” the BBC quoted Steve Goldstein, a geochemist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, US as saying.
“But we now know that in a previous warm period, the water that people are using today and are relying upon stopped flowing all by itself,” he said.
“That has important implications for people today because global climate models are predicting that this region in particular is going to become more arid in the future,” he said.
Prof Goldstein has been presenting the results of the drilling work at the 2011 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.