FROM RED TO DEAD

Science  22 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5807, pp. 1845a
DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5807.1845a
CREDIT: NASA

There has been talk for decades about replenishing the rapidly shrinking Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordan, by channeling water from the Red Sea.

Last week, the two countries and the Palestinian Authority agreed at a meeting in Jordan to study the idea. The World Bank is rounding up donors to finance a 2-year, $15.5 million analysis of the feasibility of transferring water 180 kilometers through Jordan via a canal from the Gulf of Aqaba.

The Dead Sea's water level is now sinking by about a meter a year, accelerated by draw-offs from its main source, the Jordan River, as well as an 80-year dry phase in the Middle East. In addition to stemming the decline, a water transfer would open opportunities for hydropower and desalination, both of which could harness the 400-meter drop between the Red and Dead seas.

Environmentalists say the project, estimated to cost $5 billion and take a decade, would disrupt numerous ecosystems. The biggest risk is salinization of groundwater near the canal, says Boston University geologist Farouk El-Baz. But he says “it's a good idea” that could help ease political problems by boosting the economy.

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