The accepted mechanism for the formation of thousands of sinkholes along the coast of the Dead Sea suggests that their primary cause is dissolution of a salt layer by groundwater undersaturated with respect to halite. This is related to the drop in the Dead Sea level, which caused a corresponding drop of the freshwater-saltwater interface, resulting in fresher groundwater replacing the brines that were in contact with the salt layer. In this study we used physical laboratory experiments to examine the validity of this mechanism by reproducing the full dynamic natural process and to examine the impact of different hydrogeological characteristics on this process. The experimental results show surface subsidence and sinkhole formation. The stratigraphic configurations of the aquifer, together with the mechanical properties of the salt layer, determine the dynamic patterns of the sinkhole formation (instantaneous versus gradual formation). Laboratory experiments were also used to study the potential impact of future stratification in the Dead Sea, if and when the “Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal” project is carried out, and the Dead Sea level remains stable. The results show that the dissolution rates are slower by 1 order of magnitude in comparison with a nonstratified saltwater body, and therefore, the processes of salt dissolution and sinkhole formation will be relatively restrained under these conditions.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The data are available as part of the paper and in the supporting information. We thank the Israeli Water Authority for the fellowship fund granted to the first author. The research was carried out as part of the GSI project on the infrastructure instability along the Dead Sea and was partly supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF 958/13).
©2016. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.
- Dead Sea
- laboratory experiment