A ten year dream to dig in the Dead Sea for a history of this portion of the earth’s crust has finally become a reality for eager scientists. It’s a study expected to give unprecedented information about climate change.
It is easy to criticize science for failing to predict the exact temperature to which the earth is expected to rise, or what year it will melt under the weight of our carbon blitz. Climate-change “deniers” then use this lack of precision to throw up their arms, buy hummers, and exploit every last drop of oil left on the planet – at whatever cost. But scientists are up for the challenge.
To find the necessary data to plug into prediction models, a US-manned drilling rig travels around the world churning up samples of the earth’s crust. These are are then used to map out the natural history in each area. That rig, after ten years of urging, has finally landed eight kilometers from Ein Gedi, in the middle of the Dead Sea, where for the next forty days and nights researchers will work around the clock using it to drill for sediment samples that will reveal 500,000 years of natural, and even human history.
The man leading the project has been busy this year. Professor Zvi Ben Avraham, head of the Minerva Dead Sea Research Center, is guiding the International Continental Scientitific Drilling Program – Dead Sea (ICDP-DS) under the auspices of The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Earlier this year, he led the first really deep Mediterranean Sea expedition that revealed a coral reef previously unknown to science.
He explained to journalists that the program was first pitched ten years ago and that it is the most expensive (it will cost $2.5 million) and largest earth science projects in which Israel has participated.
The rig will dig half a kilometer deep for samples. Each centimeter of sediment thereby extracted represents roughly one hundred years of natural history – earthquakes, ice ages, low lake levels – that can be tested with a margin of error of just one year.
These sediments are then kept in test tubes and refrigerated. Although magnetic susceptibility testing is being done at the land-based testing center, most of the samples will be flown to the University of Bremen in Germany, the European repository for core samples.
Half of the sediments will be cut and stored, while the other half will undergo rigorous testing in laboratories throughout the world.
Like kids on a playground, each scientist is eager to expose samples to their own specialty of inquiry. Dr. Daniel Arztegui from the University of Geneva, for example, is particularly interested in bacteria and microbes that – remarkably – thrive on the highly saline Dead Sea environment. It will be the first time that his special DNA tests will be carried out in a saline environment.
Researchers also hope this expedition will show how the historic lake recovered from an earlier drop to 500m below sea level. The current level of 423m below sea level is down from 390m at the turn of the century, a trend that has caused international alarm.
:: story and image via Jerusalem Post
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