Facts about nature

Where Did the Dead Sea Get Its Name?

Javier Sánchez
By Javier Sánchez, Biologist. January 31, 2024
Where Did the Dead Sea Get Its Name?

The Dead Sea is a salt lake which borders the West Bank, Israel and Jordan in the Middle East. In addition to being a tourist destination, it is of very important ecological value for the area, although not in the same way as most other bodies of water. This is due to the high salinity of the water which makes it difficult for most lifeforms to thrive. Its basin reaches more than 400 meters below sea level, making it the lowest land elevation. Despite being a place for recreation and other activities, it has the spooky name which sounds like it should be the title of a horror film. thedailyECO asks where did the Dead Sea get its name?

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  1. Why is it called the Dead Sea?
  2. Where is the Dead Sea located?
  3. Facts about the Dead Sea

Why is it called the Dead Sea?

The reason why the Dead Sea is called the Dead Sea is due to its extreme salinity. It is one of the saltiest places on Earth. Having such high levels of salt in the water means that there are very few multicellular organisms that can survive such an inhospitable environment. It is for this reason it is known as the Dead Sea, since it is so difficult for anything to live there. Its Hebrew name is Yam Hamelach, which simply means ‘sea salt’.

Legends surround the Dead Sea and it has a rich cultural history which is known worldwide. One of the legends which most contributed to its name was the belief that when birds flew over it, they would die. While this is not true, it is true that sea birds cannot live on it. The lack of birds most likely contributed to this particular myth.

The waters of the Dead Sea are so salty due to the minerals that are deposited by the rivers with flow into it. These very salty and dense waters are the deepest. The salts have been deposited in such high quantities for so long that the composition of the rocks in the area are high in salt minerals. These contribute the saltiness of the water.

Another reason the Dead Sea is so salty is because the there is limited flow in and out of the body of water. This prevents fresh water mixing in and diluting the saltiness. When we add to this high evaporation rates from the very hot Middle Eastern sun, it contributes to one of the saltiest lakes in the world.

Despite the almost total absence of life in its waters and its surroundings, it is not completely barren. Flora in the form of thornbushes, acacias and various types of wild grass are sufficiently hardy to thrive. In terms of fauna, some of the species which live around the Dead Sea are the Nubian ibex, eagles and vultures. Learn about the largest eagles in the world with our related guide.

While very few multicellular animals can live in the Dead Sea, there are various microorganisms such as bacteria and archaea which live there. These are considered halophilic, meaning they thrive in high-saline conditions.

Where Did the Dead Sea Get Its Name? - Why is it called the Dead Sea?

Where is the Dead Sea located?

The Dead Sea is located about 80 km east of the Mediterranean in a territory that is between the countries of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territory of the occupied West Bank. As we have stated, its basin is located in a large natural depression 400 meters below sea level and with no outlet for the waters that reach it. It has a surface area of 1048 km2, being about 80 km long and 18 km wide at its maximum passage. Its water level remains more or less stable due to evaporation provided by the hot and dry climate of the area.

The sea is surrounded by a rocky slope formed by shale, clay, marl, gypsum and other sediments (there is no sand or debris). These have been formed during different geological periods. The water of this sea comes from the Jordan River, as well as from some streams and wadis (seasonal streams). It has deeply eroded the strata which form unique structures, some of which are around 550 million years old.

Learn more about minerals are extracted from high-saline areas with our article on what are salt flats and how are they formed?

Where Did the Dead Sea Get Its Name? - Where is the Dead Sea located?

Facts about the Dead Sea

As early as 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the Qumran caves. They date back to about 300 years BCE. Among them, papyri were found that reveal the early history of Judaism and also several books of the Old Testament. These are also vital sources for the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. The famous city of sin known as Sodom is located near the Dead Sea according to these scriptures.

In terms of composition, the water of the Dead Sea has an unusual concentration of oxygen (more than the usual 10%). This factor favors relaxation of the body and brain and facilitates sleep. In addition, it has a high concentration of solid matter, the high evaporation rate means that there is up to 20 times more bromide, 15 times more magnesium and 10 times more iodine than usual in the oceans.

This mineral composition allows for bodies to float easily in the water. You may have seen some of the many tourist photos of people floating along it. This mineral composition also makes the land such an important resource for mineral mining. The minerals commonly mined from this area include potassium, in addition to the aforementioned magnesium and bromine.

Unfortunately, much of this industrial activity also contributes to different forms of environmental degradation. This impact has a detrimental effect on the surrounding area, causing problems such as sink holes and hurting already sparse ecological diversity. Increased temperatures due to climate change are also affecting the Dead Sea. This has led to some efforts being made to prevent the lake from drying up.

Learn more about bodies of water like the Dead Sea with our article on what are salt lakes?

If you want to read similar articles to Where Did the Dead Sea Get Its Name?, we recommend you visit our Facts about nature category.

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Where Did the Dead Sea Get Its Name?