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UC Santa Barbara Researchers Help Solve Mystery About Dead Sea

Photo by Nadav Lensky/Geological Survey of Israel
Researchers walk along the bank of the Dead Sea, one of Earth’s saltiest bodies of water. It is nearly ten times saltier than the ocean.";

UC Santa Barbara researchers helped solve a mystery as to why large salt deposits are piling up at the bottom of the Dead Sea in the Middle East.

The Dead Sea between Israel and Jordan is 10 times as salty as the ocean. In the summer, the lake has a top layer of hot, salty water and a bottom layer of cooler, less salty water. Since the top layer is less dense, the laws of physics don’t explain how all that salt could pile up at the bottom of the lake.

UCSB mechanical engineering PhD student Raphael Ouillon says he collaborated with the Geological Survey of Israel and found that the lake’s top layer gets disturbed by waves and other motion.

“Heat will escape very quickly because heat diffuses rapidly but the saltiness will remain in the little blob of fluid essentially. Now, it’s losing heat rapidly but retaining its salinity and because of that it actually becomes denser than the surrounding fluid and keeps sinking,” he says.

This finding also explains the formation of massive salt deposits found within Earth’s crust.