Research Shows Rapid Pace Of Historic Desertification In Dead Sea Region

Photo courtesy of NASA

by Bob Berwyn, via Summit County Citizens Voice

Past climate change in the Dead Sea region was sudden and dramatic, with Mediterranean-type vegetation giving way to desert plants within just a few decades as the climate dried out.

One of those dry spells may have resulted in the Canaanites’ urban culture collapsing while nomads invaded their area, perhaps establishing a climate link to biblical events described in the Old Testament as the exodus of the Israelites to the Promised Land.

The new climate data from the area came from a detailed study by scientists with the Steinmann-Institute for Geology, Mineralogy and Paleontology at the University of Bonn, who tracked distinct dry periods during the pottery Neolithic Age (about 7,500 to 6,500 years ago), as well as at the transition from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age (about 3,200 years ago).

“Humans were also strongly affected by these climate changes,” said Dr. Thomas Litt, describing how the climate in the region shifted within just a few decades.

The researchers established their 10,000-year climatology record with lake bed sediment cores, using pollen analysis to determine the vegetation that prevailed during drier and wetter periods.

They matched the fossil pollen to indicator plants for different levels of precipitation and temperature. Radiocarbon-dating was used to determine the age of the layers.

“This allowed us to reconstruct the climate of the entire postglacial era,” Litt said. “This is the oldest pollen analysis that has been done on the Dead Sea to date.”

In total, there were three different formations of vegetation around this salt sea. In moist phases, a lush, sclerophyll vegetation thrived as can be found today around the Mediterranean Sea. When the climate turned drier, steppe vegetation took over. Drier episodes yet were characterized by desert plants. The researchers found some rapid changes between moist and dry phases.

The pollen data helps determine what kinds of plants were growing at corresponding times. Meteorologists from the University of Bonn took this paleontological data and converted it into climate information. Using statistical methods, they matched plant species with statistical parameters regarding temperature and precipitation that determine whether a certain plant can occur.

“This allows us to make statements on the probable climate that prevailed during a certain period of time within the catchment area of the Dead Sea,” said Dr. Andreas Hense, with the University of Bonn’s Meteorological Institute.

The resilience of the resulting climate information was tested using the data on Dead Sea level fluctuations collected by their Israeli colleagues around Prof. Dr. Mordechai Stein from the Geological Services in Jerusalem.

“The two independent data records corresponded very closely,” said Litt. “In the moist phases that were determined based on pollen analysis, our Israeli colleagues found that water levels were indeed rising in the Dead Sea, while they fell during dry episodes.”

In addition, this look back allows developing scenarios for potential future trends. “Our results are dramatic; they indicate how vulnerable the Dead Sea ecosystems are,” says Prof. Litt. “They clearly show how surprisingly fast lush Mediterranean sclerophyll vegetation can morph into steppe or even desert vegetation within a few decades if it becomes drier.” Back then, the consequences in terms of agriculture and feeding the population were most likely devastating. The researchers want to probe even further back into the climate past of the region around the Dead Sea by drilling even deeper.

Bob Berwyn is the Editor of Summit County Citizens Voice. This piece was originally published at Summit Voice and was reprinted with permission.

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8 Responses to Research Shows Rapid Pace Of Historic Desertification In Dead Sea Region

  1. From Peru says:

    What is the title of the study to find it on google?

    Or a link to it?

  2. From Peru says:

    This is very interesting history. The events associated with the exodus of the Hebrew People to Canaan/Palestine/Israel coincide with the collapse of the Bronze Age empires on 1200-1100 BC:

    In Greece the Micenic Empire, that was dominating the East Mediterranean after defeating Troyans and Minoics (i.e. the people of Crete), fell and was invaded by Indoeuropean peoples; after that, there are some centuries of no written documents in Greece (the so called Hellenic Middle Ages)

    The Hittite Empire vanished, the New Kingdom of Egypt fell into chaos and lost constrol of the Canaan area as invaders known as “People from the seas” or “peleset” or “phylistines” attacked Egypt and then colonized Gaza.

    The Hebrews are of unknown origin. According to the Old Testament, they were semitic refugees that come massively from Egypt (where they had before migrated after a catastrophic drought forced them to migrate to Egypt) that guided by Moses and Joshua conquered Cannaan and murdered the entire canaanite native population (also semitic). After that, they had frequent wars with the other colonizers, the phylistines.

    Archeology (according to a documentary I saw a year ago, so excuse me if I forgot some details) seems to provide little evidence that this bloody history is true. The Canaanite cities were destroyed with many centuries of difference BEFORE the Hebrew invasion, likely by earthquakes. Only one city was destroyed at the time of the alleged invasion. Excavations show a continuum between Canaanite and Hebrew pottery and the most likely sequence of events was that there was a rebellion where the poor peasants destroyed the city of their upper-class Canaanite masters.

    It is possible that the event was facilitated by the coming of a small group of semitic people that converted to Monoteism in Egypt that inspired the poor and oppressed peasants to rebel, associating the simple life of them with moral religious virtue and the excesses of the rich with religious immorality.

    So the Biblical story has some elements of truth (the Egyptian immigrants, the war against the Canaanite cities) but is a stronly deformed history were the Hebrews are shown as foreign invaders. The corollary of this reconstruction is that Hebrews were Canaanites, and the “holy war” against Canaanites was more like a “class war” between Canaanites.

    Seeing the relationship between these historical events and (paleo)climate change to put them in a geological/climatological context is fascinating.

    What is not fascinating but sad and disturbing instead is seeing how the events that happened 3200 years ago repeat themselves. We have had more than 60 years of fratricidal Jewish-Palestinian/Arab wars and political violence, and now a brutal (also fratricidal)civil war in Syria. Again religion is used as a way to justify the killing of innocent people.

    And again the trigger of the most recent wave of violence was climate change. Fortunately so far only Syria has fallen into chaos, but Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine/Israel are in risk too.

  3. From Peru says:

    I should have said in my last paragraph:
    climate change is “one trigger” , not “the trigger” of violence. My apologies for occupying comment space for this correction.

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes, many cultures and regions have been devasted by climate change in the past even though many of the histories are murky as From Peru observes. The difference this time is that it is global and there is nowhere to go, ME

  5. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    It would be interesting to see if there is any record of 7 wet years followed by 7 dry years, as the bible related in the story of joseph, it was some years before the drought forced jacob’s family to move to egypt.

    Was there any record of the heat and drought 4,000 years ago, which caused the simultaneous collapse of civilizations in egypt, mespotamia, and china?

    The sahara was a lush rain forest 8,000 years ago, aomewhere around 6,000 years ago it turns to desert, around 5500 ya civilization rises along the nile, i have heard it described as being a very violent society. Perhaps this is the story of the garden of eden, man’s expulsion from the garden, the rise of the first civilization and man’s descent into extreme violence.

    btw, the fighting between jews and arabs did not start 60 years ago, it began 1400 years ago, along with christians, when the muslims took over the middle east. These problems outdate western civilization by a millenium. Western civilization is the cause of the global warming crisis, but not the cause of the middle east crisis. Our consumption of oil has made the middle east crisis worse, along with the current catastrophe in the arctic, which now threatens human survival.

    Obama just mentioned climate change in his speach, finally!

  6. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    Come to think of it, the 7 fat years and 7 lean years in joseph’s egypt probably were years of drought in the nile basin, which is in central africa.

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    The same pattern can be found in Turkey, Arizona, Mexico and Guatemala, and the Sahara, as well as less dramatic shifts in Greece and Pakistan.

    Sunny land with some trees and not a lot of rainfall is vulnerable to this shift. Deforestation and intensive agriculture tends to alter rainfall patterns through reduced transpiration and cloud cover.

  8. From Peru says:

    “the fighting between jews and arabs did not start 60 years ago, it began 1400 years ago, along with christians, when the muslims took over the middle east”

    The Jews were for centuries victims of atrocious persecutions, but the main persecutors were not Muslims, were Romans first(remember the destruction of Judea by Emperor Titus after the Jewish Uprising in the 1st century AD)and then Christians (that accused them of “theicide”).

    As a sad example of that, in 1492, the same year Columbus discovered America* (an event that eventually lead to a deadly epidemic of smallpox and then the occupation and colonization of the Americas by the Spanish Kingdom), the so-called “Catholic Kings” of Spain, after defeatìng the Granada muslims, made the decree of the expulsion of the Jews that were not only expulsed but also their goods confiscated. The only way to remain in Spain was becoming Catholic, but many Jews continued to practice their religion in secret. To combat this, the Spanish Kingdom made the infamous Spanish Inquisition, that unlike the Medieval and Roman ones, was not mainly anti-heretic, was mainly anti-semitic.

    Where did the Jews go to escape Christian persecution?

    Many of them went to Islamic countries, where there was a (relatively) better tolerance for foreign religions (in particular, Judaism and Christianism were considered “religions of the Book” and respected for that).

    It is sad that when Cristians learned to respect the rights of the Jews (after one of the biggest, if not the biggest, massacre of human history) the Jewish-Palestinian conflict (that started after Palestine was occupied by the British in the 1920s) began hostilities between the two main semitic peoples (Jews and Arabs).


    1)I am not a muslim, I am Catholic and a descendent of (not only) Spanish colonizers, and the events I described in Spain, and its colonies (and similar but less severe episodes in Italy)are a shame that haunted the Catholic Church until the 20th century. The Catholic Church (together with nearly every Western society and institution) now has now condemned its antisemitic past.

    2)* Columbus was a great man, as were most european explorers of the late 1400s. Unfortunately, they were followed by wealth and power thirsty warriors, the so-called “Conquistadores” that destroyed the Inca(Andes) Maya and Azteca(Mexico) empires, then occupied and colonized what is now known as Latin America.

    Having said that, I agree 100% about what you say about Climate Change, the fossil fuel dependence.

    I also hope Obama can do it. Having the current Republican leadership in charge of the US government is scary.