9 Deep Facts About the Dead Sea

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vvvita/iStock via Getty Images / vvvita/iStock via Getty Images

The Dead Sea is one of the most unusual lakes in the world. Located at the lowest point on Earth, tourists from around the globe flock to this hypersaline phenomenon, which borders Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Dive into these nine fascinating facts about the "Salt Sea."

1. The Dead Sea was formed by a rift in the Earth's crust.

The Dead Sea was formed as two of Earth's tectonic plates, the African and Arabian plates, began to pull apart more than 3 million years ago. That action created a graben (the German word for ditch), which then connected to the Mediterranean Sea. Over millennia, tectonic activity isolated the graben from the sea, forging an inland lake. Today the Dead Sea is fed by the Jordan River at its northern end.

2. The Dead Sea is located at the lowest point on Earth.

The surface of the Dead Sea is 1300 to 1400 feet below sea level (for comparison, Death Valley, the lowest point in North America, is 282 feet below sea level). The deepest part of the Dead Sea lake bed is about 2300 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea, measuring about 50 miles long and 11 miles at its widest point, lies between the Judaean Hills to the west and the Transjordanian highlands to the east.

3. Dead Sea water may be good for your skin.

The Dead Sea is about 34 percent salt. For millennia, people have reported health and skin benefits from exposure to Dead Sea water and mud. Some studies have shown that taking a dip in Dead Sea water, which is rich in magnesium salts, can reduce inflammation and dry skin and increase the skin's ability to hold moisture.

4. The Dead Sea is one of the world's saltiest bodies of water.

No need for flotation devices here. People's bodies are more buoyant in the Dead Sea because of the high concentration of dissolved mineral salts. At its surface, the Dead Sea is five to nine times more saline than seawater; the deeper you go, the saltier it gets. Rather than swim, visitors simply float on the surface.

5. The Dead Sea has been a place of refuge since biblical times.

The Dead Sea is cited in the Hebrew Bible during the rule of King David as a place where he sought refuge. This famous sea is also mentioned in other biblical books throughout history. The first tourist to visit the Dead Sea was most likely Abraham.

6. The only thing that can survive in the Dead Sea is bacteria.

No recognizable creatures can survive in the Dead Sea, which means no jumping dolphins, no swimming fish, and no seaweed to get stuck between your toes. The massive levels of salt prevent the existence of all life forms, except some bacteria discovered in recent years. Needless to say, don’t drink the water!

7. Dead Sea mud is a hit with tourists.

Almost as famous as the sea itself are the images of tourists slathering mud on their bodies, letting it harden, and then rinsing it off in the sea. The deposits of black mud come directly from the seabed and it is high in magnesium, sodium, potassium, and calcium.

8. The Dead Sea may be the biggest free spa on Earth.

With all that mud, the Dead Sea is the world's biggest natural free spa. But should you feel the need to indulge in further spa treatments, there are multiple hotels in the area that offer rejuvenating spa services, including the famous Ein Gedi Hotel.

9. Yes, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found here.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found hidden in a cave in Qumran and contain some of the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible. Portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls now make the occasional tour at various museums so scholars can continue to study them.