Relationships between lake-level changes and water and salt budgets in the Dead Sea during extreme aridities in the Eastern Mediterranean

Yael Kiro, Steven L. Goldstein, Javier Garcia-Veigas, Elan Levy, Yochanan Kushnir, Mordechai Stein, Boaz Lazar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Thick halite intervals recovered by the Dead Sea Deep Drilling Project cores show evidence for severely arid climatic conditions in the eastern Mediterranean during the last three interglacials. In particular, the core interval corresponding to the peak of the last interglacial (Marine Isotope Stage 5e or MIS 5e) contains ∼30 m of salt over 85 m of core length, making this the driest known period in that region during the late Quaternary. This study reconstructs Dead Sea lake levels during the salt deposition intervals, based on water and salt budgets derived from the Dead Sea brine composition and the amount of salt in the core. Modern water and salt budgets indicate that halite precipitates only during declining lake levels, while the amount of dissolved Na+ and Cl accumulates during wetter intervals. Based on the compositions of Dead Sea brines from pore waters and halite fluid inclusions, we estimate that ∼12–16 cm of halite precipitated per meter of lake-level drop. During periods of halite precipitation, the Mg2+ concentration increases and the Na+/Cl ratio decreases in the lake. Our calculations indicate major lake-level drops of ∼170 m from lake levels of 320 and 310 m below sea level (mbsl) down to lake levels of ∼490 and ∼480 mbsl, during MIS 5e and the Holocene, respectively. These lake levels are much lower than typical interglacial lake levels of around 400 mbsl. These lake-level drops occurred as a result of major decreases in average fresh water runoff, to ∼40% of the modern value (pre-1964, before major fresh water diversions), reflecting severe droughts during which annual precipitation in Jerusalem was lower than 350 mm/y, compared to ∼600 mm/y today. Nevertheless, even during salt intervals, the changes in halite facies and the occurrence of alternating periods of halite and detritus in the Dead Sea core stratigraphy reflect fluctuations between drier and wetter conditions around our estimated average. The halite intervals include periods that are richer and poorer in halite, indicating (based on the sedimentation rate) that severe dry conditions with water availability as low as ∼20% of the present day, continued for periods of decades to centuries, and fluctuated with wetter conditions that spanned centuries to millennia when water availability was ∼50–100% of the present day. These conclusions have potential implications for the coming decades, as climate models predict greater aridity in the region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-226
Number of pages16
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - 15 Apr 2017


  • Dead Sea
  • droughts
  • halite
  • interglacial
  • lake levels
  • marine isotope stage 5e

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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