(2021) The Many Facets of Israel's Hydrogeology. Kafri U. & Yechieli Y.(eds.). Cham: . p. 81-97 Abstract
The geochemistry of groundwater surrounding the Dead Sea reflects mixing between different water bodies that occupied the Dead Sea basin and fresh groundwater flowing from the highlands to the basin. The distribution of various geochemical parameters is affected by changes in the lake level, including natural fluctuations and the present lake level drop. This chapter deals with different aspects of groundwater flow mechanisms in the coastal aquifer of the Dead Sea and their relationship with the groundwater geochemistry. Dead Sea water circulation in the coastal aquifer occurs during a steady-state lake level but also persists during lake level drop. This interaction between the Dead Sea water and the sediments removes Ba, U, and 226Ra and contributes Fe, Mn, and short-lived Ra isotopes to the Dead Sea. 14C and tritium values in the Dead Sea groundwaters are affected by mixing with fresh water and between brines that occupied the Dead Sea Rift during different times. In addition to the inorganic water–rock interaction between the Dead Sea groundwater and the sediments, DIC δ13C, and S and O isotopes in dissolved SO4 suggest that methane oxidation coupled with bacterial sulfate reduction is taking place. On longer time-scales (glacial-interglacial), lake water penetrates the aquifer sediments during high stands and discharge back to the Dead Sea during low stands. The Ein-Qedem thermal springs composition suggests that the brine penetrated to the aquifer during the last glacial when the lake level was high and is discharging now back into the Dead Sea from a depth of about 1000 m.
Nitrate-Enrichment Structures Phytoplankton Communities in the Shallow Eastern Mediterranean Coastal Waters(2020) Frontiers in Marine Science. 7, 611497. Abstract
Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) has been shown to be an important source of nutrients in coastal environments, especially nitrogen and silica, and thereby relive nutrient limitation to phytoplankton. Here, we followed autotrophic microbial biomass, activity, and community composition at a site strongly influenced by SGD and a nearby nutrients-poor reference site at the oligotrophic Israeli shallow rocky coast [southeastern Mediterranean Sea (SEMS)] between 2011 and 2019. The surface water at the SGD-affected area had significantly higher NO3 + NO2 (∼10-fold) and Si(OH)4 (∼2-fold) levels compared to the reference site, while no significant differences were observed for PO4 or NH4. This resulted in a significant increase in algae biomass (∼3.5-fold), which was attributed to elevated Synechococcus (∼3.5-fold) and picoeukaryotes (∼2-fold) at the SGD-affected site, and in elevated primary production rates (∼2.5-fold). Contrary to most SGD-affected coastal areas, diatoms biomass remained unchanged between sites, despite the elevated N and Si, suggesting the dominance of picophytoplankton over microphytoplankton at the SEMS. DNA sequencing of the 16S and 18S rDNA supported these findings. These results highlight the influence of SGD on shallow-water microbial populations. Our observations are consistent with recent studies showing that phytoplankton along the Israeli coast are likely nitrogen + silica limited, and may have important ecological and regulatory implications for environmental policy and management of coastal aquifers.
Droughts, flooding events, and shifts in water sources and seasonality characterize last interglacial Levant climate(2020) Quaternary Science Reviews. 248, 106546. Abstract
Modern observations document increased drought frequency together with more intense precipitation and flooding in the world's semi-arid and arid regions as a consequence of the warming climate. Climate models predict that such conditions will intensify in the future, impacting millions of people. Paleoclimate studies can complement the short modern observational record and model projections by documenting climate changes in the past. Here we report major shifts in the geographic sources, intensity, and seasonality of Eastern Mediterranean precipitation during the unusually warm last interglacial period Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e, reflecting global shifts in the rain and desert belts, based on 234U/238U-ratios in mineral precipitates in the Dead Sea, combined with evidence from climate model simulations. In the Dead Sea catchment 234U/238U ratios are indicators of water sources, where the Jordan River (flowing from the north) and the western catchments show high activity ratios between ∼1.5–1.7, and the eastern and southern catchments and flash floods (in the south-west, south and east) show lower ratios of 1.0–1.2. In Dead Sea water and precipitated minerals, 234U/238U is nearly always ∼1.45–1.55 during both glacials and interglacials. However, during the last interglacial MIS 5e insolation peak (∼127–122 ka) its value decreased to 1.2–1.3, and then to ∼1.0 towards its end (∼122–116 ka). During the insolation peak, the U-isotope data, combined with climate model runs forced with period orbital and greenhouse gas concentrations, indicate that rainfall associated with the African Summer Monsoon in the Dead Sea catchment accounted for ∼50% of the total annual rainfall, in stark contrast to present-day dry summers. The geochemical evidence indicates that following the insolation peak the region experienced an extremely dry period (although punctuated with wetter intervals), signifying expansion of the desert belt, similar to predicted effects of anthropogenic warming. This drying is partly supported by climate model runs forced with the appropriate changes in orbital parameters. The extreme drying during late MIS 5e between ∼122–116 ka reflected a major weakening of Mediterranean storm systems, resulting in a major decline of the Jordan River flow (indicated by the low 234U/238U ratios in the Dead Sea) and a relative increase in precipitation associated with the African Monsoon, shifting towards autumn. The Jordan River flow is estimated to be ∼10% of the present-day (pre-1964, prior to major diversion of the Jordan River and its sources for human use). Such changes, if they occur in the future, have serious implications for future water availability in the politically sensitive Middle East.
Revised chronology of the ICDP Dead Sea deep drill core relates drier-wetter-drier climate cycles to insolation over the past 220 kyr(2020) Quaternary Science Reviews. 244, 106460. Abstract
The Dead Sea Deep Drilling Project drilled 456 meters into the deepest floor of the Dead Sea and recovered a record of the past similar to 220 kyr of the Levant hydroclimate history, that is, Marine Isotope Stages 1-7, including the last three interglacials and the last two glacials. We present an updated chronology of the core from DSDDP Hole 5017-1-A, from the Dead Sea's deepest basin, that refines our previous chronology (Torfstein et al. 2015) based on new information. The updated chronology uses the following approaches: (1) radiocarbon ages of Kitagawa et al. (2017); (2) correlation of specific layers in the core with U-Th-dated sediments on the Dead Sea margin, particularly during the interval of glacial Lake Lisan (MIS 2,3,4); (3) tuning of the delta O-18 data of DSDDP core aragonite to the U-Th dated oxygen isotopes of regional cave speleothems; and (4) tuning of the DSDDP aragonite delta O-18 data to summer insolation curves when the cave delta O-18 chronology is less clear. The updated chronology reveals a strong relationship between the sedimentary facies comprising the core and Northern Hemisphere summer insolation variations. It shows that sequences of sediments marking drier/wetter/drier climate conditions in the lake's watershed (e.g., salt/muds/salt, respectively) appear across the flank/peak/flank segments of several summer insolation peaks. In particular, the transition from drier to wetter sedimentary facies during mid-latitude insolation peaks coincides with the intervals of sapropel conditions in the Mediterranean, reflecting enhanced Nile flow due to intense African monsoonal conditions, and marking the impact of the tropical precession cycles on Eastern Mediterranean hydroclimate. This pattern was lost during MIS 2,3,4, when mostly sequences of primary aragonite are punctuated by gypsum precipitation during Heinrich events, marking the strong impact of the North Atlantic on the last glacial Levant hydroclimate.
Radium isotope fingerprinting of permafrost - applications to thawing and intra-permafrost processes(2019) Permafrost and Periglacial Processes. 30, 2, p. 104-112 Abstract
Permafrost in circum-polar regions has been recently undergoing thawing, with severe environmental consequences, including the release of greenhouse gases and amplification of global warming. Although highly important, direct methods of tracking thawing hardly exist. In a research study conducted at Adventdalen, Svalbard, we identified a permafrost radioisotope fingerprint, and show that it can be used to track thawing. Ratios of long- to the shorter-lived radium isotopes are higher in ground ice than in active layer water, which we attribute to the permafrost closed system and possibly to the long residence time of ground ice in the permafrost. Also, daughter–parent
228Ra ratios are lower in permafrost than in the active layer. These fingerprints were also identified in a local stream, confirming the applicability of this tool to tracing thawed permafrost in periglacial watersheds. A combination of radium isotope ratios and
3H allowed the identification of recent intra-permafrost segregation processes. The permafrost radium fingerprint should be applicable to other permafrost areas, which could assist in regional quantification of the extent of permafrost thawing and carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
Salt precipitation and dissolution in the late Quaternary Dead Sea: Evidence from chemical and delta Cl-37 composition of pore fluids and halites(2018) Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 487, p. 127-137 Abstract
The chemical composition and delta Cl-37 of pore fluids from the ICDP core drilled in the deepest floor of the terminal and hypersaline Dead Sea, and halites from the adjacent Mount Sedom salt diapir, are used to establish the dynamics of halite precipitation and dissolution during the last interglacial and glacial periods. Between similar to 132 and 116 thousand years ago (ka) halites precipitated in the lake resulting in the expulsion of Na+ and Cl- from the residual solution. Over 50% of the Cl- reservoir was removed, resulting in a decrease in the Na/Cl ratio from 0.57 to 0.19. This process was accompanied by a decrease in delta Cl-37 values in the precipitating halites and the associated residual Cl- in the lake. The observed decrease fits a Rayleigh distillation curve with a fractionation factor of Delta((NaCl-Dead Sea solution)) = +0.32 parts per thousand (+/- 0.12) determined in the present study. This behavior implies negligible contribution of external sources of Cl- to the lake during the main peak of the last interglacial, MIS5e. Subsequently, during the last glacial (ca. 117 to 17 ka) dissolution of halite took place, the Na+ and Cl- inventory were replenished, accompanied by an increase in Na/C1 from 0.21 to 0.55 and in the delta Cl-37 values from -0.46 parts per thousand to -0.12 parts per thousand. While the lake underwent significant dilution during that time, the decrease in salinity was somewhat suppressed by the dissolution of the halite which was mostly derived from Mount Sedom salt diapir. (C) 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserve.
Relationships between lake-level changes and water and salt budgets in the Dead Sea during extreme aridities in the Eastern Mediterranean(2017) Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 464, p. 211-226 Abstract
Thick halite intervals recovered by the Dead Sea Deep Drilling Project cores show evidence for severely arid climatic conditions in the eastern Mediterranean during the last three interglacials. In particular, the core interval corresponding to the peak of the last interglacial (Marine Isotope Stage 5e or MIS 5e) contains similar to 30m of salt over 85 m of core length, making this the driest known period in that region during the late Quaternary. This study reconstructs Dead Sea lake levels during the salt deposition intervals, based on water and salt budgets derived from the Dead Sea brine composition and the amount of salt in the core. Modern water and salt budgets indicate that halite precipitates only during declining lake levels, while the amount of dissolved Na+ and Cl- accumulates during wetter intervals. Based on the compositions of Dead Sea brines from pore waters and halite fluid inclusions, we estimate that similar to 12-16cm of halite precipitated per meter of lake-level drop. During periods of halite precipitation, the Mg2+ concentration increases and the Na+/Cl- ratio decreases in the lake. Our calculations indicate major lake-level drops of similar to 170 m from lake levels of 320 and 310 m below sea level (mbsl) down to lake levels of similar to 490 and similar to 480 mbsl, during MIS 5e and the Holocene, respectively. These lake levels are much lower than typical interglacial lake levels of around 400 mbsl. These lake-level drops occurred as a result of major decreases in average fresh water runoff, to similar to 40% of the modern value (pre-1964, before major fresh water diversions), reflecting severe droughts during which annual precipitation in Jerusalem was lower than 350 mm/y, compared to similar to 600 mm/y today. Nevertheless, even during salt intervals, the changes in halite facies and the occurrence of alternating periods of halite and detritus in the Dead Sea core stratigraphy reflect fluctuations between drier and wetter conditions around our estimated average. The halite intervals include periods that are richer and poorer in halite, indicating (based on the sedimentation rate) that severe dry conditions with water availability as low as similar to 20% of the present day, continued for periods of decades to centuries, and fluctuated with wetter conditions that spanned centuries to millennia when water availability was similar to 50-100% of the present day. These conclusions have potential implications for the coming decades, as climate models predict greater aridity in the region. (C) 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
(2017) Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 198, p. 285-298 Abstract
Most of the fossil corals in the elevated reef terraces along the Gulf of Aqaba (GOA) were extensively altered to calcite. This observation indicates extensive interaction with freshwater, possibly when the terraces passed through a coastal aquifer that existed along the shores of the GOA, implying a wetter climate during the time of recrystallization from aragonite to calcite. Thus, dating of the recrystallization events should yield the timing of past wetter conditions in the current hyperarid area of the GOA. In the present study, 18 aragonite and calcite corals were collected from several elevated coral reef terraces off the coast, south of the city of Aqaba. While aragonite corals were dated with the conventional closed system age equation (assuming zero initial Th), the dating of the calcite corals required the development of adequate equations to allow the calculation of both the initial formation age of the aragonite corals and the time of recrystallization to calcite. The two age calculations were based on the assumptions that each reef terrace went through a single and rapid recrystallization event and that the pristine aragonite corals were characterized by a rather uniform initial U concentration, typical for pristine modern corals. Two recrystallization events were identified at 104 +/- 6 ka and 124 +/- 8 ka. The ages coincide with the timing of sapropel events S4 and S5, respectively, when the African monsoon induced enhanced wetness in the desert area. Considering the age uncertainties, the times of formation of the two major reef terraces are estimated to be similar to 124 ka (reef terrace R-2) and similar to 130 ka (reef terrace R-3), matching the peaks in the global sea level during the last interglacial MIS 5e stage. Apparently, sea level of the GOA did not fluctuate a lot during the period between similar to 130 ka and similar to 104 ka and remained close to the Marine Isotopic stage (MIS) 5e highstand. The availability of freshwater (during the sapropel periods) and limited sea level fluctuations facilitated the recrystallization of the GOA reef corals to calcite. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
(2016) Depositional Record. 2, 1, p. 118-138 Abstract
A study of an International Continental Drilling Program core recovered from the middle of the modern Dead Sea has identified microbial traces within this subsurface hypersaline environment. A comparison with an active microbial mat exhibiting similar evaporative processes characterized iron-sulphur mineralization and exopolymeric substances resulting from microbial activity. Exopolymeric substances were identified in the drilled sediment but unlike other hypersaline environments, it appears that they have a limited effect on the precipitation of calcium carbonate in the sedimentary column. Sulphate reduction, however, plays a role in all types of evaporative facies, leading to the formation of diagenetic iron sulphides in glacial and interglacial intervals. Their synthesis seems to occur under progressive sulphidation that generally stops at greigite because of incomplete sulphate reduction. The latter may be caused by a lack of suitable organic matter in this hypersaline, hence energy-demanding, environment. Pyrite may be found in periods of high lake productivity, when more labile organic matter is available. The carbon and sulphur cycles are thus influenced by microbial activity in the Dead Sea environment and this influence results in diagenetic transformations in the deep sediment.
(2016) Geological Society of America Bulletin. 128, 5-6, p. 824-841 Abstract
Thick sequences of salt (halite) have been recovered in a 456-m-long core drilled at the deepest floor of the Dead Sea by the Dead Sea Deep Drilling Project and extending similar to 200 k.y. back in time. The salt sequences were precipitated in the ancient lake that occupied the Dead Sea Basin during the last three interglacials during intervals of extreme aridity in the lake's watershed. The salt layers alternate with "mud" layers that indicate wetter periods in the watershed, when floods transported fine detritus matter to the lake. The salt sources include brine discharge and freshwater runoff that dissolved halite units. Dissolved salts accumulated in the lake during glacials and relatively wet periods when the lake expanded, and precipitated during interglacials when the lake levels dropped. This study establishes for the first time the evaporite facies and sedimentological features of the deep Dead Sea brine during interglacial periods, by using the modern precipitation of halite in the Dead Sea as an analogue for past halite depositional periods as recorded in the drill core. The halite intervals provide a record of facies characterizing a deep-water evaporitic environment. The halite layers consist mainly of two types of crystals: small cumulate crystals containing halite rafts, which indicate precipitation from the surface brine of the lake (epilimnion), and bottom-growth (usually large) halite crystals that precipitated on the lake floor (hypolimnion). The layers of small halite crystals formed during drier periods as compared to the bottom-growth crystals. The bottom-growth halite crystals contain variable quantities of detritus and show mild dissolution structures at the contact between the mud and the halite crystals. These two main types of halite, in combination with "muds" and gypsum, comprise seven categories of salt facies that reflect the hydrological conditions (dry-to-wet), and that display a cyclic (decadal to millennial) pattern along the sampled core intervals. Frequent alternation of these two salt crystal types suggests seasonal changes, whereby the small cumulate crystals were formed during the summer, and the bottom-growth crystals were formed during the winter, when the surface temperatures of the lake were low, and the surface water was less saline and less likely to be saturated with respect to halite. Comparison of the last interglacial halite with the modern halite facies, together with the absence of significant dissolution features within the halite and the cyclic nature of the facies, indicates that the lake was continuously deep (>100 m) during the last 200 k.y.
(2015) Chemical Geology. 411, p. 155-171 Abstract
This study presents the behavior of radon and radium isotopes and their application to groundwater age and flow dynamics. The research was conducted in the complex Dead Sea groundwater system, which includes a large variety of sediments, groundwater salinities, flow mechanisms and groundwater ages. Groundwater around the Dead Sea contains high activities of radon (up to tens of thousands dpm/L) and radium (up to hundreds dpm/L). Adsorption of radium, which is partially salinity controlled, is an important source of unsupported Rn-222, which is used for estimating the adsorption partition coefficient of radium. In addition to salinity, the concentration of Mn and Fe oxides and aquifer heterogeneity are important factors controlling the adsorption partition coefficient. The different nature of the rocks on both sides of the Dead Sea transform, with lower Th/U ratios in the carbonate rocks on the western catchment of the Dead Sea compared to higher ratios in the sandstone aquifer east of the Dead Sea, is reflected in a higher Ra-228/Ra-226 activity ratio in the eastern compared with the western groundwaters (averages of 0.76 and 0.15, respectively). The different groundwater groups around the Dead Sea contain secular or non-secular equilibrium ratios, which depend on the age of the groundwater (the time since the groundwater entered the aquifer) or whether the groundwater system is in a steady state (the age of the groundwater system). Young groundwater, such as the Dead Sea water that circulates in the aquifer or freshwater springs, is depleted in the long-lived radium isotopes compared to the short-lived isotopes, whereas old groundwater contains relatively high activity of Ra-226 (similar to 500 dpm/L) and the radium activity ratios are close to secular equilibrium. The common secular equilibrium ratios between all four radium isotopes in the Dead Sea groundwaters suggest that many of the groundwater flow paths did not change significantly during the past 8000 years. (C) 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
The extent of seawater circulation in the aquifer and its role in elemental mass balances: A lesson from the Dead Sea(2014) Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 394, p. 146-158 Abstract
This paper shows for the first time a field-based estimation of the volume of dispersive density-driven long-term seawater circulation in coastal aquifers, which is crucial to the understanding of water-rock interaction and to the assessment of its potential impact on elemental mass balances in the sea. The Dead Sea is an ideal place for studying this type of circulation due to the absence of tides and the accessibility of the shallow fresh-saline transition zone. The unique antithetical behavior of Ra-226 and Ra-228 during seawater circulation in the Dead Sea aquifer, where Ra-228 is added and Ra-226 is removed, provides a robust new method for quantifying aquifer circulation. Here we estimate water circulation through the Dead Sea aquifer to be 400 million m(3)/yr (similar to 2.5 million m(3)/yr per 1 km of shoreline), which is similar to 20% of the fresh water inflow prior to the 1960s. This large volume can affect trace element concentrations in the Dead Sea, e.g. it is a sink for Ra-226, Ba and U and a source for Ra-228 and Fe. These results suggest that dispersive density-driven seawater circulation in aquifers may play an important role in mass balances in other lacustrine and oceanic settings.
(2013) Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 122, p. 17-35 Abstract
The Dead Sea system provides a unique opportunity to study flow velocities and reaction rates during seawater circulation in the aquifer. We present here a novel application of calculating groundwater age and velocity along the flow path of the hypersaline water from the Dead Sea into the aquifer using the buildup rate of Ra-228 in this water. The calculated circulation velocities are 1-10 m/y, which is in agreement with estimates based on the Na/Cl ratios in this water (1.5-4 m/y). The latter is unique to the Dead Sea-aquifer system, where the Na/Cl ratio has been decreasing during the past 50 years due to the precipitation of halite in the lake. The velocity estimates facilitated the calculation of the rates of water rock interactions in the Dead Sea aquifer.SO4 is removed relatively fast (k = 0.8 y(-1)) due to gypsum precipitation while barite or celestine precipitation removes Ra-226 and Ba in a time scale of years (k = 0.22 y(-1)). Similar rates were found for redox-driven reactions, such as U removal (k = 0.4 y(-1)) and Fe and Mn contribution due to the dissolution of oxides (k = 0.15 y(-1)). In the fresh-saline groundwater transition zone, gypsum which precipitated from hypersaline water in higher lake stands, is now being dissolved and enrich the water with SO4. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
(2012) Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 88, p. 237-254 Abstract
We present a new approach to studying the behavior of radium isotopes in a coastal aquifer. In order to simulate radium isotope distributions in the dynamic flow field of the Dead Sea aquifer, a multi-species density dependent flow model (SUTRA-MS) was used. Field data show that the activity of Ra-226 decreases from 140 to 60 dpm/L upon entering the aquifer from the Dead Sea, and then further decreases linearly due to mixing with Ra-poor fresh water. On the other hand, an increase is observed in the activity of the shorter-lived isotopes (up to 52 dpm/L Ra-224 and 31 dpm/L Ra-223), which are relatively low in Dead Sea water (up to 2.5 dpm/L Ra-224 and 0.5 dpm/L Ra-223). The activities of the short lived radium isotopes also decrease with decreasing salinity, which is due to the effect of salinity on the adsorption of radium. The relationship between Ra-224 and salinity suggests that the adsorption partition coefficient (K) is linearly related to salinity. Simulations of the steady-state conditions, show that the distance where equilibrium activity is attained for each radium isotope is affected by the isotope half-life, K and the groundwater velocity, resulting in a longer distance for the long-lived radium isotopes. K affects the radium distribution in transient conditions, especially that of the long-lived radium isotopes. The transient conditions in the Dead Sea system, with a 1 m/yr lake level drop, together with the radium field data, constrains K to be relatively low (
(2010) Water Resources Research. 46, 12, Abstract
The present study examines the response of groundwater systems to expected changes in the Mediterranean Sea (rise of <1cm/yr) and Dead Sea levels (decline of ∼1 m/yr). A fast response is observed in the Dead Sea coastal aquifer, exhibited both in the drop of the water levels and in the location of the fresh‐saline water interface. No such effect is yet observed in the Mediterranean coastal aquifer, as expected. Numerical simulations, using the FeFlow software, show that the effect of global sea level rise depends on the coastal topography next to the shoreline. A slope of 2.5‰ is expected to yield a shift of the interface by 400 m, after a rise of 1m (∼100 years), whereas a vertical slope will yield no shift. Reduced recharge due to climate change or overexploitation of groundwater also enhances the inland shift of the interface.
(2008) Water Resources Research. 44, 12, 12442. Abstract
This paper investigates the effect of a drainage base level drop on the groundwater system in its vicinity, using theoretical analysis, simulations, and field data. We present a simple and novel method for analyzing the effect of a base level drop by defining two characteristic times that describe the response of the water table and the transition zone between the fresh and saline water. The Dead Sea was chosen as a case study for this process because of the lake's rapid level drop rate. During a continuous lake level drop, the discharge attains a constant value and the hydraulic gradient remains constant. We describe this new dynamic equilibrium and support it by theoretical analysis, simulation, and field data. Using theoretical analysis and sensitivity tests, we demonstrate how different hydrological parameters control the response rate of the transition zone to the base level drop. In some cases, the response of the transition zone may be very rapid and in equilibrium with the water table or, alternatively, it can be much slower than the water table response, as is the case in the study area.