Dead Sea canal question

Are the people of Israel who live along the shores of the Dead Sea, which is over 1200 feet below sea level, aware that there is a remote possibility that the Mediterranean Sea (which is at sea level), being situated 1200 feet above the Dead Sea at a distance of less than 50 miles along many portions of the Dead Sea’s western shoreline, as well as the Gulf of Aqaba of the Red Sea, could in the event of a massive earthquake, burst through a fault in the surrounding mountains and result in a flood in which the Dead Sea’s water level has a potential to rise 1200 feet?

What puzzles me is that Israel and some of its neighboring nations are debating whether to build canals to connect the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean and Red Seas (Read the Wikipedia articles on the Mediterranean-Dead Sea Canal and the Red Sea-Dead Sea canals). This idea seems absurd to me, as these canals, if built, would be, in effect, the “faultlines” that connect the either of the seas to the Dead Sea that would set the stage for a potential catastrophe.

Without the artificial canal being constructed between either of the seas to the Dead Sea, the probability that an entire channel/fault would be naturally formed by an earthquake in one fell swoop would be astronomically unlikely. But if a canal is constructed artificially, then the breakage of the dam or dams situated along the canals would be sufficient to cause the Mediterranean Sea or Red Sea, which are themselves connected to the Atlantic and Indian oceans, respectively, to begin to flow unimpeded into the Dead Sea.

The Panama Canal and Suez canals are different from these canals because both bodies of water that they connect are located at the same elevation, namely that of the global mean sea level; even if the sea level changes, the level of water of the two bodies of water at the two ends of the canal will change by the same amount so that there is never a possibility of a difference being established; this is due to the fact that all of the world’s oceans and major inland seas are connected and hence must be at the same water level.

Building these canals, in my opinion, has the potential to lead to a catastrophe in which the entire Dead Sea basin is flooded by a thousand foot high flood that will never recede; a flood in which all of the inhabitants of the Dead Sea shoreline will surely die.

In my opinion, if Israel chooses not to build these canals, the Dead Sea has around a 0.000001% chance of being intruded upon by either the Mediterranean or the Red Seas. But if they do, I think the probability of such a flood increases by orders of magnitude, although perhaps not to the point at which people living there should be thinking it’s the end of the world.

But in all seriousness, are the Israelites aware of this worst-case scenario, and the possibility of its occurrence being heightened by the building of these canals? Do you think that people, in general, are aware of what it means to be living in a basin that is below the global mean sea level, and is located in a geologically active area that is also close to major bodies of water that are a thousand feet above them, and that this means that the surrounding mountains are essentially a dam that is holding back the enormous mass contained in the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea? If the worst happens, these unfortunate people will become just like the sea upon whose shore they reside…

Am I just being an “alarmist?”

As I understand it (and the Wiki page seems to back this up), the idea is not for an open canal between the Med and Dead (or Red and Dead) Seas, but a rather narrow tunnel. More of a pipeline than a canal. I doubt if this would have any significant effect on the integrity of the natural “dam”.

Unless one of the various vengeful deities endemic to the region decides to step in, the chances of this are pretty much as close as you can get to zero. Even with HUGE earthquakes, the displacement vector (i.e. how much the two blocks of earth actually move relative to each other) is usually measured in inches to a few feet. I’m not familiar with the local geology, so maybe the Mediterranean and Dead Sea basins joining is something that could conceivably happen in the distant geologic future, but it would take a series of very large earthquakes and that isn’t going to happen overnight.

Do you have any justification for the increased risk? The Jordan Valley / Dead Sea lies on the Great African Rift.

In theory, a canal between the Dead Sea and the Med and the Gulf of Aqaba could actually be a good idea. Both would add considerably to Israel’s defence. And they could make the canals considerably wider and (more importantly) deeper than the Suez canal to allow passage of more massive ships.

That’s the theory, but, as you fear, there’s a huge problem: look how far up the Jordan would become salt water. For instance, Jericho is 250m below sea level and would be lost if not protected. The Sea of Galilee is 211 metres below sea level. Putting a dam all the way around the Dead Sea would be a monumental task. How much of Israel, Jordan, and Syria are you prepared to lose?

It would be far more sensible to build a canal direct.

I have always been interested in the idea. First, Israel could generate considerable electricity by running turbines at the level of the Dead Sea.
Second, flooding the Dead Sea basin would restore the Dead Sea (which has been drying up for the past 70 years).
Third, if the Dead Sea basin was flooded, Israel would have a vast interior lake-perhaps the salinity would be low enough to permit aquaculture of fish?
And the evaporation from the new sea would probably increase the rainfall over the area, which would be a huge benefit to Israeli agriculture.
The idea was raised by Willi Ley in 1954 (“Engineers Dreams”).
Course, if we wait long enough, the Great Rift Valeey will open up and flood anyway.

The main issue for Jordan, when I lived there, was that the level of the Dead Sea was receding a meter a year. Mostly due to upstream users of the Jordan river, deep wells and lack of water conservation practices by all concerned.
Some of the (older) resorts are now a 100+ meters from the water. Jordan has been building a a “Red to Dead” pipeline since the mid 2000’s, partly to bring water to the city of Amman and surroundings, to be desalinated, then the residue to be pumped into the north end of the Dead Sea. Never heard of a canal project.
Another issue, perhaps entirely peripheral, is that a good broad jumper could make it across the Jordan at several points as the water level now is. If you don’t mind the potential Uzi fire from the other bank.

That would depend on the salinity of the water flooding the basin. If it comes from the Mediterrranean, it is going to be salt water, and high salinity salt water at that; the eastern Med has saltier water than the Atlantic.

Part of the problem with an alternate to the Suez is that the land between Dead and Med is fairly mountainous. I’m not an expert on the local geography but I’m not aware of any natural “gap” that would allow a canal to be built easily between the two.

there is no great advantage in going via the Dead sea, in fact a worse problem - the amount of up and down required. Simpler to just go straight from the Red to Med - oh, wait, they already do that.

Obviously, nobody is planning to flood half the Jordan valley with salt water; plus, there’s at least two and a half countries who would need to agree on any action, and “agree” does not appear in the vocabularies of any of them. The closest anyone’s going to come to this action is the pipeline mentioned to simply stop the ongoing shrinkage of the Dead Sea, which IIRC is about 1 meter down every year now.

There’s a significant up and down required in both the Aqaba/Eilat to Dead Sea path, and the Dead Sea to Mediterranean. Unless you plan to do MASSIVE earth moving (and heavily flood the land) the canals will have a significant up then down component. It would take something far more massive than a big earthquake to create a flood. A normal 9.0 Richter would just ruin the locks and leave the canal dry and in need of repair. If something opens a crevasse from Aquaba to the Dead Sea, or drops the intervening land below sea level, probably a flood would be the least of the damage from Turkey to Sudan. There would be no buildings left standing.

(The 9.0 off Indonesia that created the tsunami disaster of 2006 allegedly moved a huge chunk of seabed… all of 10 feet vertically. )



No one is planning to dig a massive sea level (and lower) trench from the oceans to the Dead Sea fitted with dams to keep the torrents back.

As I understand it the big advantage of the Gulf of Aqaba is that it’s far deeper than the Red Sea.

To be really wonderfully nitpicky, the sea level at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal is at a different absolute elevation than the sea level at the Atlantic end. If some titanic seismic catastrophe broke through the isthmus, water would flow through in a vast current, altering the currents as they are now and introducing temperature changes too. Someone wrote a science fiction story on the idea, where the isthmus was broken by an extreme volcanic explosion.

In the same vein as the OP, I sometimes wonder about California’s Imperial Valley, including the city of El Centro. This area is below sea level, and the Sea of Cortez isn’t very far away, nor is the land in between very high in elevation.

It’s scary living in a potential energy well. (Such as on the surface of a planet…)