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Dead Sea drilling project aims to study ancient weather, disasters

By Izzy Lemberg, CNN
Scientists work to extract and examine the layers of sediment on the drilling platform in the Dead Sea.
Scientists work to extract and examine the layers of sediment on the drilling platform in the Dead Sea.
  • Project features researchers and scientists from several nations
  • "We will see evidence through four Ice Ages"
  • The drilling will last for 40 days
  • Israel
  • Dead Sea

Ein Gedi, Israel (CNN) -- A unique drilling exploration project in the Dead Sea aims to uncover layers of ecological history, which may shed light on questions relating to global climate and seismic conditions, officials said.

The project, sponsored by the International Continental Drilling Program and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, will feature an international team of scientists from the United States and Europe as well as Palestinian and Jordanian researchers.

At 422 meters (1,384 feet) below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. The project will drill a further 300 meters (984 feet) below the seabed.

"We have here the deepest basin in the world," said Zvi Ben-Avraham of the Minerva Dead Sea Research Center at Israel's Tel Aviv University. "This is the deepest crack on earth, and as a result of this natural phenomenon it formed a lake which has a very heavy water, 10 times as heavy as normal sea water."

The Dead Sea, which straddles Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, is right along the African-Syrian rift, which is prone to earthquakes.

Drilling further down into the seabed can provide information about past weather conditions, rainfall and dry spells, as well as any disasters such as quakes that occurred long ago, said Ben-Avraham. "We will see evidence through four Ice Ages, rainy periods, droughts, dust storms, things that everybody in the world is interested in."

On the drilling platform, workers insert 3-meter (9-foot) pipes into the earth below the sea. When the pipes are returned they are opened. Inside them is another clear glass pipe which allows the scientists to look at the various layers representing different time periods.

The $2.5 million project is expected to last 40 days. However, the scientists expect its findings to keep them busy for years to come.