We have the technology to monitor sinkholes

Student seriously injured in weekend cave-in at Dead Sea.

dead sea dry 2 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
dead sea dry 2 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A system developed at Tel Aviv University with help from French and Jordanian researchers can predict and monitor the development of dangerous sinkholes on the edges of the Dead Sea - one of which left physics student Idan Shadmi seriously injured over the weekend. However, Dr. Lev Eppelbaum, the TAU geophysicist who made innovative use of 3-D microgravity modeling, says little money is available to run the project, which could save lives and infrastructure. In the latest incident, Shadmi felt the ground collapsing under his girlfriend, Liat Heretz. He pulled her to the side, but fell into the sinkhole that opened up suddenly to a depth of 20 meters. "Idan was right behind me, and came in a second to help me," Heretz told Army Radio on Sunday. "He managed to push me out a bit, and then fell in." Shadmi was extracted by rescue teams and taken to the Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem. According to Eppelbaum, funding is needed from the National Infrastructures Ministry to pay for staff, equipment and other costs involved in keeping a constant eye on the growing number of Dead Sea sinkholes, thousands of which have formed so far. More information on the system is due to be published in the TAU Review next month. Eppelbaum, an associate professor at TAU's geophysics and planetary sciences department who came on aliya from Baku in the former Soviet Union, has been working on the monitoring project for several years under the NATO Science for Peace Program, together with colleagues from Israel, Jordan and France (the latter from the University of Grenoble). The French, he said, are interested in the technology to monitor caves. TAU is now planning an expanded Dead Sea Interdisciplinary Research Center that will focus on transborder processes taking place within the Dead Sea basin and be run in cooperation with international scientists and research institutions. Eppelbaum said that sinkholes, which are unique to the Dead Sea, threaten industry, agriculture and tourism, as well as the construction of future hotels and the expansion of date-palm groves. The holes develop because the saltwater level is low due to diversion of water from the Jordan River, the shortage of rainfall, industrial evaporation of water for the mineral industry, and pollution. The monitoring system detects minuscule differences in the Earth's gravitational field; a sinkhole, which is a cavity, has a weaker gravitational field than the solid ground surrounding it. "The area needs constant geophysical monitoring," Eppelbaum told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "We can't know where the next ones will appear unless we monitor the area." The ultimate solution in preventing sinkholes from appearing, he said, would be to dig a channel between the Dead Sea and either the Mediterranean Sea or the Red Sea. However, while there have been such plans, the chemical composition of the resulting Dead Sea water cannot yet be predicted.