Nautilus

The Dead Sea Lives!

Half a lifetime ago, in 1979, I traveled with my college roommate to one of the wonders of the world, a giant salt lake linking Israel and Jordan called the Dead Sea. We arrived at the nearby Ein Gedi Spa at the foot of the Judean Hills, donned swimsuits, and took a short stroll into an expanse of iridescent blue 10 times saltier than the Atlantic back home. I splayed my arms and legs and bobbed in the sun like a buoy, unsinkable in a legendary pool revered for its healing properties 1,338 feet below sea level, the lowest spot on Earth.

When I returned last November, I was thrilled to find the spa and its restaurant still intact. But instead of sauntering to the shore, I had to take a trolley—a rough and tumble ride across a mile of sand and rocks to a body of water visibly smaller than before. The Dead Sea retained its iridescent blue and buoyancy, but the sense of serenity was gone. The shoreline had moved because the great sea of salt was shrinking. Receding water had left massive stores of solid salt in cavities underground. When fresh water from nearby aquifers rushed in to dissolve that salt, it left in its wake thousands of underground voids. These subterranean craters—called sinkholes— can suddenly collapse under the slightest pressure or weight, swallowing people, houses, and roads. Some experts predict the Dead Sea will be no more than a puddle by 2055.

For more than 100 years, Israeli planners have dreamed of merging the low-lying

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