Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New water balance calculation for the Dead Sea: Climate change could have a bigger impact on water resources in Jordan than in Israel and Palestine


The drinking water resources on the eastern, Jordanian side of the Dead Sea could decline severe as a result of climate change than those on the western, Israeli and Palestinian side.

This is the conclusion reached by an international team of researchers that calculated the water flows around the Dead Sea. The natural replenishment rate of groundwater will reduce dramatically in the future if precipitation lowers as predicted, say the scientists, writing in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Even now, the available groundwater resources in the region are not sufficient to meet the growing water requirements of the population and agriculture.If the situation worsens, it could therefore have serious social, economic and ecological consequences for the region.

Sinkholes and surface springs in Samar (Western Dead Sea), the Jordan flank of the Dead Sea is visible in the background. Photo: Dr. Christian Siebert/UFZ

Important data for water providers

A reliable inventory of existing water resources around the Dead Sea, on the border between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, forms the basis for sustainable water management. The lowest lake on earth is not only one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Middle East; more than four million people rely on the groundwater resources in its catchment basin.

For a long time, the complex hydrology of this region presented major unknown factors in the local water balance equation. To some extent it still does. Thanks to improved computer simulations, the researchers were able to work out - on an international scale for the first time - how much water actually infiltrates from rainfall and replenishes the groundwater reservoir: around 281 million cubic metres per year. This means that we now also know what the maximum withdrawal limit should be if this resource is to be managed sustainably.

A complicated puzzle with many pieces

Since the 1960s, the majority of the Dead Sea's tributaries have been dammed to capture the precious water before it disappears into the salt lake. However, this apparent salvaging of water is causing the water level of the Dead Sea to fall by around a metre per year and, with it, the surrounding groundwater levels. Fresh water springs thousands of years old are ebbing away. This much was already known.

What was not clear was exactly what impact the retreating water levels have on the quantities of usable groundwater. Over the past five years, the team of researchers from Germany, Israel, Jordan and Palestine working on the SUMAR research project therefore used a combination of comprehensive on-site measurements, remote sensing and computer modelling systems to be able to provide a fairly complete answer to this question.

Tracing the course of the water

The springs in and around the Dead Sea were identified using infra-red sensors on aircraft and satellites, as well as chemical and isotopic methods. "By analysing rare earth elements in particular we were able to trace the origin of the water and the routes it takes underground," reports Dr Christian Siebert of the Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ).

"Not only were we able to locate 37 areas where groundwater flows into the Dead Sea, we now also know the history of each source. This was important for finding out how much fresh water flows into the Dead Sea underground and is therefore no longer available to use as drinking water. The last passage in particular, before the water from the mountains reaches the lake, took us a long time," says the hydrogeologist. "Here, salt water rising from below mixes with the fresh water, and salt minerals are dissolved in it. But, together with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute in Bremen, we also managed to identify the biogeochemical processes that make permanent changes to the groundwater."

Computer models calculate the total water balance

In the end, all the available data were fed into computer models that revealed, more accurately than ever before, the situation in the drainage basin in the immediate vicinity of the Dead Sea - an area measuring roughly 7000 square kilometres. The biggest challenges were the heterogeneous distribution of urban areas and the associated gaps in the data.

Whereas the number of measuring stations in and around built-up areas like Jerusalem and Amman is very high, there are broad stretches of land that are very sparsely populated and therefore have only few wells and almost no geological or meteorological data. Yet rain is particularly important in this context. The region is characterised by short, heavy downpours that often fall over a very small area. For this reason, the project team set up its own measurement stations so as to be able to measure the flash floods that result from these downpours. A comprehensive flow-measuring station was also set up on the River Jordan near one of the baptismal sites that attract thousands of Christian pilgrims every year.

Bleak forecasts

Using the models, the scientists were able, for the first time, to make predictions about possible future changes in the groundwater resources that are so vital for this region: the western (Israeli-Palestinian) side of the lake receives almost twice as much rainfall as the eastern (Jordanian) side. As a result, groundwater replenishment rates are currently around 50 per cent higher on the western side. Climate scenarios predict a decrease in annual rainfall of around 20 per cent. However, the water that currently ends up underground and replenishes these important groundwater resources would be halved. The decrease on the western Israeli-Palestinian side is expected to be around 45 per cent, whereas the water available for the Jordanian (eastern) side would fall by nearly 55 per cent. The social and economic situation could therefore worsen, in Jordan in particular.

Recycling as a way out of the water crisis

Saving and reusing water could therefore be a solution, and the UFZ researchers are developing this concept further with colleagues from Israel, Palestine and Jordan. For instance, the SMART project researched ways of stabilising water supply in the Middle East. The UFZ developed new concepts for decentralised wastewater treatment and made a significant contribution to the water master plan of Jordan, one of the world's most arid countries. Great importance was attached to adapting the wastewater treatment concept to local conditions, and to collaborating with local scientists and authorities. A special implementation office was set up in Jordan's Ministry of Water in Amman.

Ongoing research
Since completion of the SUMAR project, the research has been continued by the Helmholtz centres KIT (Karlsruhe), GFZ (Potsdam), UFZ (Halle) and local partners within the DESERVE (DEad SEa Research VEnue) project. The aim of the meteorologists, hydrogeologists, geologists and geophysicists involved in the project is to look at environmental risks, water availability and climate change as a whole, so as to develop solutions for this unique region, not only so that people will be able to continue to visit the biblical sites, but also so that the people of this region can continue to live there. A stable water supply will therefore play an important role in bringing peace to the Middle East.

Whether the region will ever build the canal intended to carry water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea remains to be seen. Scientists like Christian Siebert are critical of the possible consequences of importing water in this way: "For instance, it is unclear whether the much lighter ocean water will mix with the Dead Sea water, which is ten times more saline, and we cannot be sure what biological and chemical processes will take place." The impacts on the surrounding groundwater are also disputed.
Tilo Arnhold
Christian Siebert, Tino Rödiger, Ulf Mallast, Agnes Gräbe, Joseph Guttman, Jonathan B. Laronne, Yael Storz-Peretz, Anat Greenman, Elias Salameh, Marwan Al-Raggad, Dina Vachtman, Arie Ben Zvi, Danny Ionescu, Asher Brenner, Ralf Merz, Stefan Geyer (2014): Challenges to estimate surface- and groundwater flow in arid regions: The Dead Sea catchment. Sci Total Environ. Volumes 485-486, 1 July 2014, Pages 828-841
The study was founded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the IWRM project "Sustainable Management of Water Resources (Quantity and Quality) in the Dead Sea Area (SUMAR)".

For further information please contact: :
Dr Christian Siebert/ Dr Tino Rödiger/ Dr Ulf Mallast/ Dipl.- Geogr. Agnes Sachse/ Prof. Dr Ralf Merz/ Dr Stefan Geyer
phone: +49 (0)345-558-5211, -5208, -5210, -5216, -5201, -5217
or alternatively:
Tilo Arnhold, Susanne Hufe (UFZ Press Office)
phone: +49 (0)341-235-1635, -1630

Additional Links:
Sustainable Managment of water in semi-arid and Arid Regions (SUMAR)
Sustainable Management of Available Water Resources with Innovative Technologies (SMART)
Helmholtz Virtual Institute DEad SEa Research Venue (DESERVE)
Integrated project T34: Water Scarcity
Scientists discover dense and diverse microbial communities in and around fresh water springs on the Dead Sea floor (press release of MPI for Marine Microbiology, 2011): 
In the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists conduct research into the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. Their areas of study cover water resources, biodiversity, the consequences of climate change and possible adaptation strategies, environmental technologies and biotechnologies, bio-energy, the effects of chemicals in the environment and the way they influence health, modelling and social-scientific issues. Its guiding principle: Our research contributes to the sustainable use of natural resources and helps to provide long-term protection for these vital assets in the face of global change. The UFZ employs more than 1,100 staff at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the federal government, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. 
The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major and urgent issues in society, science and industry through scientific excellence in six research areas: Energy, earth and environment, health, key technologies, structure of matter as well as aviation, aerospace and transportation. The Helmholtz Association is the largest scientific organisation in Germany, with 35,000 employees in 18 research centres and an annual budget of around €3.8 billion. Its work is carried out in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).

Tilo Arnhold | UFZ News

Further reports about: Climate Dead Sea Environmental Helmholtz UFZ rainfall resources underground water balance water crisis

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Rapid plankton growth in ocean seen as sign of carbon dioxide loading
27.11.2015 | Johns Hopkins University

nachricht Revealing glacier flow with animated satellite images
26.11.2015 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Increased carbon dioxide enhances plankton growth, opposite of what was expected

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Graphene microphone outperforms traditional nickel and offers ultrasonic reach

27.11.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

Rapid plankton growth in ocean seen as sign of carbon dioxide loading

27.11.2015 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>