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Drastic desertification
Date:8/22/2012

The Dead Sea, a salt sea without an outlet, lies over 400 meters below sea level. Tourists like its high salt content because it increases their buoyancy. "For scientists, however, the Dead Sea is a popular archive that provides a diachronic view of its climate past," says Prof. Dr. Thomas Litt from the Steinmann-Institute for Geology, Mineralogy and Paleontology at the University of Bonn.

Using drilling cores from riparian lake sediments, paleontologists and meteorologists from the University of Bonn deduced the climate conditions of the past 10,000 years. This became possible because the Dead Sea level has sunk drastically over the past years, mostly because of increasing water withdrawals lowering the water supply.

Oldest pollen analysis

In collaboration with the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam (German Research Centre for Geosciences) and Israel's Geological Service, the researchers took a 21 m long sediment sample in the oasis Ein Gedi at the west bank of the Dead Sea. They then 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," Prof. Litt reports. "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.

Transforming pollen data into climate information

The pollen data allows inferring what kinds of plants were growing at the corresponding times. Meteorologists from the University of Bonn took this paleonto
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Contact: Prof. Dr. Thomas Litt
t.litt@uni-bonn.de
0049-228-732-736
University of Bonn
Source:Eurekalert

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