London: The Dead Sea had almost disappeared once some 120,000 years ago and the way it`s water levels are declining, the giant lake may not survive another significant period of drought in the Middle East, scientists have warned.
A team of environmental scientists, who examined the sediments drilled from the Dead Sea, said their discovery proves the precarious existence of the remarkable body of water, which is currently diminishing at an alarming pace.
The Dead Sea, which marks the borders between Israel and Jordan, would have little chance of surviving another period of extreme drought as its fresh water tributaries have been all but drained the populations surrounding it, mostly for the irrigation of crops, they warned.
The water body is the lowest point on the planet, sitting 425 meters below sea level. Its highly salted water covers layer upon layer of sediment that captures with unique clarity the climatic history of the region reaching back thousands of years.
Holes drilled into the deepest point of the lake in late 2010 produced evidence that it very nearly evaporated about 120,000 years ago, when there were very few humans living by its shores, a newspaper reported.
Professor Moti Stein, of the Jerusalem University who led the international research, said: "I am a geologist not a prophet but I can say that a combination of natural climate change and the man-made changes we have seen to the environment around the Dead Sea could lead to a catastrophe."
"When the lake drained hundreds of thousands of years ago, it was renewed because the fresh water came back. Now we have blocked the fresh water supply, there would be no reason for the sea to come back. It is out of balance with its surroundings," he said.
The only way to protect the Dead Sea would be to unblock its fresh water sources, Professor Stein claimed, but warned that this would have a significant impact on the water supplies of several countries.
Commercial industries using minerals from the Dead Sea, which are of significant economic importance to both Israel and Jordan, have also had a significant impact on the lake`s water levels.
The surface of the Dead Sea has dropped by more than 10 metres since 1997.
The researchers presented the results of their research at the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.