Why Do You Float in the Dead Sea?

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The Dead Sea, located on the shores of Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, is one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet. It is six to eight times saltier than the ocean. The added mineral content from dissolved salts makes the water extraordinarily dense, and increased density results in greater buoyancy for any object placed in the water. Just as you float more easily in the ocean than in a freshwater pond, so, in the case of the supremely saline Dead Sea, you will bob like a cork.

View of Dead Sea coastline
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The Dead Sea receives water primarily from the River Jordan, which in turn is the recipient of many tributaries carrying water and silt from the surrounding mountains. Because the Dead Sea is landlocked, the only way for water to escape is through evaporation, which occurs at a rapid rate due to the extreme heat of the region. The evaporating water leaves behind solids in the form of minerals and salts, making the Dead Sea grow ever more saline.

Woman floating in the Dead Sea, Mountains in background are in Jordan
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A simple scientific experiment beautifully demonstrates how increased salinity results in buoyancy. All you need is an egg, a glass, fresh water and a container of salt.

Fill the glass with water, and gently place the egg into it. The egg will sink. Remove the egg, pour in a generous amount of salt, and stir. Again, gently place the egg into the glass. It will float. If it does not float, simply leave it in the glass and freely pour in salt. When the water has achieved sufficient density, the egg rises to the surface.

The water in the Dead Sea is so salty that, aside from a few forms of bacteria and one algae, nothing can live in it. Freshwater fish that, on occasion, make their way to the Dead Sea from one of its feeder streams are killed instantly. Humans, however, seem to thrive on visiting and floating in the Dead Sea. Its minerals and salts are believed by many to have a curative effect on skin ailments, including psoriasis. Wildlife abound in the area around the sea, including ibex, leopards, a variety of birds and hyrax.

Visitors covered in mineral mud at a Dead Sea spa resort
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The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the surface of the Earth at 1,385 feet below sea level. It is 1,240 feet deep. It has been known and visited for many thousands of years, and the area around it was home to the philosophers and sects that created the Dead Sea scrolls. Today, it is the site of many tourist hotels, resorts and cosmetics factories. The use of its minerals for cosmetics probably began with the Egyptians and continues to flourish today.

Dead Sea cliffs
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The surface level of the Dead Sea is dropping an extraordinary 13 inches per year. Over the past few decades, it has lost one third of its overall surface. Adrian Zoubi, a spokesman for the Jordanian water ministry, stated in 2008, "In 50 years time, the Dead Sea will disappear." The diversion of water from the Jordan River through dams, reservoirs and pipelines means that too little water reaches the Dead Sea. The water lost naturally through evaporation is no longer being replenished.

Dead Sea seashore
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In hopes of avoiding what the World Bank has called "an environmental calamity," a major proposal has been made to build a 110-mile canal from the Red Sea to deliver millions of tons of desalinated water into the Dead Sea. Proponents say the canal, dubbed "Red to Dead," would create jobs, power hydroelectric plants and create cooperation among Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians. Others claim that far more research needs to be conducted about the potential environmental impact of such a plan.

Woman reads a book while floating in the Dead Sea
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