Dead Sea, landlocked salt lake between Israel and Jordan in southwestern Asia. Its eastern shore belongs to Jordan, and the southern half of its western shore belongs to Israel. The northern half of the western shore lies within the Palestinian West Bank and has been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Jordan River, from which the Dead Sea receives nearly all its water, flows from the north into the lake.
The Dead Sea has the lowest elevation and is the lowest body of water on the surface of Earth. For several decades in the mid-20th century, the standard value given for the surface level of the lake was some 1,300 feet (400 metres) below sea level. Beginning in the 1960s, however, Israel and Jordan began diverting much of the Jordan River’s flow and increased the use of the lake’s water itself for commercial purposes. The result of those activities was a precipitous drop in the Dead Sea’s water level. By the mid-2010s, measurement of the lake level was more than 100 feet (some 30 metres) below the mid-20th-century figure—i.e., about 1,410 feet (430 metres) below sea level—but the lake continued to drop by about 3 feet (1 metre) annually.
Physiography and geology
The Dead Sea is situated between the hills of Judaea to the west and the Transjordanian plateaus to the east. Before the water level began dropping, the lake was some 50 miles (80 km) long, attained a maximum width of 11 miles (18 km), and had a surface area of about 394 square miles (1,020 square km). The peninsula of Al-Lisān (Arabic: “The Tongue”) divided the lake on its eastern side into two unequal basins: the northern basin encompassed about three-fourths of the lake’s total surface area and reached a depth of 1,300 feet (400 metres), and the southern basin was smaller and considerably shallower, less than 10 feet (3 metres) deep on average. During biblical times and until the 8th century CE, only the area around the northern basin was inhabited, and the lake was slightly lower than its present-day level. It rose to its highest level, 1,275 feet (389 metres) below sea level, in 1896 but receded again after 1935, stabilizing at about 1,300 feet (400 metres) below sea level for several decades.