Late Holocene lake levels of the dead sea

R. Bookman, Y. Enzel, A. Agnon, M. Stein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This work presents a high-resolution lake-level record of the late Holocene Dead Sea, a hypersaline terminal lake whose drainage basin encompasses both Mediterranean and hyperarid climatic zones. The lake-level curve reflects the regional hydrologic variations in the drainage basin, which in turn represent the Levant paleoclimates. The curve is based on 46 radiocarbon ages of organic remains from well-exposed sedimentary sequences along the Dead Sea shores. These sequences record fluvial and lacustrine depositional environments. The paleolakeshores are marked by shore ridges, coarse-sand units, and aragonite crusts; in the modern Dead Sea, such features indicate the exact elevation of the shore. The late Holocene Dead Sea level fluctuated within the range of 390 to 415 m below sea level (mbsl). For most of the time the lake was below the topographic sill (402 mbsl) separating the northern and southern basins of the Dead Sea and was confined to the deep northern basin. Nevertheless, short-term rises in the late Holocene Dead Sea level caused the flooding of the shallow and flat southern basin. Highstands occurred in the second and first centuries B.C. and the fourth century A.D. during the Roman and early Byzantine periods, respectively, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries A.D. during the Crusader period, and at the end of the nineteenth century A.D. The rises mark a significant change in the annual rainfall in the region, which likely exceeded the instrumentally measured modern average. The curve also indicates drastic drops that exposed the sedimentary sequences to erosion. The oldest and probably deepest drop in the lake level culminated during the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. after a retreat from a higher lake stand. The longest lowstand occurred after the Byzantine period and continued at least until the ninth century A.D. This arid period coincided with the invasion of Moslem-Arab tribes into the area during the seventh century A.D. The dramatic fall of the Dead Sea level during the twentieth century is primarily artificial and has been caused by the diversion of runoff water for the drainage basin, but the magnitude is not considered exceptional for the late Holocene. Although the past drops in the lake never exceeded the modern artificial drop rates, they do represent extreme arid conditions that occurred frequently over the past several thousand years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-571
Number of pages17
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of America
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Dead Sea
  • Depositional environments
  • Holocene
  • Lacustrine deposits
  • Lake level
  • Paleoclimate
  • Radiocarbon dating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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