For our non-French speakers, I want to pick up where Helena left off on Day Four of the trip and talk about our trip to the Dead Sea (featuring haikus):
The Dead Sea WorksAt the Dead Sea Works Everywhere you look: Red and white potash
After descending in the cable car from Masada and enjoying some lunch in the valley below, we made our way to the Dead Sea Works, a large chemical production and collection plant at the southern end of the Dead Sea. The plant was founded in 1930 as Palestine Potash, and it uses the naturally high levels of salts and minerals in the Dead Sea to produce potash (Potassium Chloride), Bromine, and Magnesium. In fact, the southern end of the Dead Sea is comprised entirely of large collection pools built and maintained by the Dead Sea Works and a similar Jordanian operation across the border. Water is fed into these collection pools through canals built from the northern, natural end of the Dead Sea. Once the water makes its way from the deep natural sea to the shallow collection pools, the water begins to evaporate, leaving behind large quantities of table salt (which is either uncollected or gathered and treated as waste) and a solution containing the valuable minerals above. This solution is harvested in a further series of collection pools by specially designed boats called dredgers, which gather the salts from the pools and bring it to the plant to be processed. The processed potash (which is often died red to mimic the appearance of traditionally mined potash) and other products are then shipped to the coast by way of trucks, trains, and a specially-constructed 18 kilometer conveyor belt. From there, it is shipped around the world for use as fertilizer (in the case of potash) or for other industrial applications (in the case of bromine and magnesium).
Modern Israel: The land of milk and honey (and magnesium)
This plant and its Jordanian counterpart are the only operations of this type in the world, and we were really lucky to have the opportunity to tour the facility. Not only does the factory operate in a unique and environmentally-friendly manner, but it also provides employment and a sense of community for local residents. The plant is located in what Israelis call “the periphery” – outside the densely populated center of the country – and opportunities for work are often limited for residents there.
The Future of the Dead SeaCollect it in pools The water evaporates Leaving salt behind
At the current rate of evaporation – about a meter a year – and with the Dead Sea’s primary source of water being diverted for use by both Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea Works still expects to be able to operate for between 150 and 300 more years. There have been discussions of artificially refilling the Sea with a canal built from either the Red Sea or the Mediterranean. Due to the tremendous expense and cross-border collaboration such a project would necessitate, little progress has been made it on the idea, but fortunately the Sea will likely reach an evaporation equilibrium well before it dries up.
Don’t Drink The WaterThe Dead Sea ain’t dead It is just really salty (Doesn’t taste real good)
After the plant tour, we returned to our hotel, which was actually located on the artificial side of the sea, and had our first (and for many of us probably our last) Dead Sea swimming experience. The floating sensation was uncanny, and everyone really could sit up or lie back in the water and float with no effort at all. Unfortunately the salinity of the water made it almost dangerous to be in, and I had to run once for the beachside showers after getting just a bit in one of my eyes. On a brighter note, some of us had a chance to use special Dead Sea mud with all sorts of purported health and cosmetic benefits, and we all left the beach feeling healthier and happier for the experience – if not quite sure when we’d come back.