Drilling under the Dead Sea through four Ice Ages

An int'l research team at urging of TAU, Hebrew U. professors will drill half a kilometer to study year-by-year climate change from 500,000 years ago.

November 19, 2010 06:10
2 minute read.
Red Sea.

Red Sea 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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An international research team will begin drilling beneath the Dead Sea for 500,000 years of climate history on Friday morning.

The International Continental Scientific Drilling Program chose the Dead Sea as the site of its next drilling at the urging of Tel Aviv University's Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham and the Israel Geological Survey's Dr. Mordechai Stein.

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The project is being sponsored by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, of which Ben-Avraham is a member.

"We will be drilling 300 meters down about six kilometers out from Ein Gedi under the Dead Sea," Ben-Avraham, the Israel Prize-winning head of the Minerva Dead Sea Research Center at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday night.

"We will be taking out a vertical piece about half a kilometer long which will allow us to get a picture of climate change on a year-by-year basis going back 500,000 years," he said.

Ben-Avraham heads the initiative along with Stein of the Hebrew University's Institute of Earth Sciences, and Prof. Michael Lazar of the University of Haifa is project manager.

Because the surface of the Dead Sea is more than 400 meters below sea level, it is a drainage basin for water from all over Israel and beyond. That water has brought sediment along with it, which laid layer upon layer of stored geologic information throughout hundreds of thousands of years.

The researchers believe the sample will reveal detailed evidence of annual rainfall, climate change, droughts, floods, dust storms, earthquakes and more over the last roughly 500,000 years.

Through the sample, the scientists will be able to track back through four Ice Ages and chart how the climate changed without human involvement over the last hundred thousand years. The research might lead to confirming biblical stories or the passage of Homo Sapien from Africa to the rest of the world, the researchers have speculated.

Armed with a detailed history of climate change in Israel and its environs, could it help the country predict future patterns of temperatures and rainfall? "That's an interesting philosophical question," Ben-Avraham mused. "Can the past give us insight into the future? Not always."

"However, previous drilling which revealed the last 1,000 years have revealed significant periods of dry spells," he noted.

"People talk about how we are in the midst of several years of a dry spell now and say it must be coming to an end. Well, there have been dry spells of hundreds of years, so maybe we shouldn¹t be so sure," Ben-Avraham said. We have noticed that climate events have come in clusters, he added.

Because of budget constraints, the team only has 40 days to drill, so the work will go on day and night.

The International Continental Scientific Drilling Program was founded in 1996 to encourage cooperation on researching the properties of the Earth's crust through shallow and deep drilling. The organization has funded drilling all over the world since then.

The Dead Sea Project brings together a team from Israel, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Japan and the US. There are also representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan involved.

"This is a massive project. Some of the analysis could keep researchers busy for the next 10 years," Ben-Avraham said.

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