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FLOAT ON: A Palestinian woman swimming in the Dead Sea.
Associated Press/Photo by Maya Hitij
FLOAT ON: A Palestinian woman swimming in the Dead Sea.

Raising the Dead Sea

Science | Will an ambitious water project revive a sinking salty sea?

Issue: "Coming to America," April 6, 2013

Usually what’s dead can’t get any deader. The exception is the Dead Sea, a salty body of water lodged between Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank that has sunk over 100 feet in the past 8 decades and continues to recede 4 to 5 feet per year. The Jordan River used to bring about 340 billion gallons of water to the Dead Sea annually, but adjacent nations have tapped the river so heavily it carries a mere 25 billion gallons today. Much of that is sewage.

At public forum meetings in Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories in February, officials from the World Bank outlined several proposals to solve the problem. Under the most ambitious plan, engineers would use canals, tunnels, or pipelines to link the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, pumping ocean water 100 miles downhill from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. The water’s descent would power a hydroelectric desalinization plant, providing fresh water to the arid region.

Jordanian officials are especially supportive of the idea. Jordan is the fourth most water-deprived nation in the world, and an influx of 320,000 refugees from war-ravaged Syria since 2011 has made the situation worse.

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Some Middle East environmentalists oppose the Red Sea link, though, arguing that an earthquake in the region could break a pipeline or canal and contaminate groundwater with saltwater. They worry about the unknown effects of pumping ocean water into the Dead Sea. (It could create an algal bloom, or cause a chemical reaction turning the surface of the sea white.)

Environmental concerns might not be the biggest hurdle. Building the conduit would cost $10 billion, and it’s not clear the funding is available. Half the money would have to come from international gifts. Also, the three parties to the project—the Jordanians, Israelis, and Palestinians—would have to do something unusual for the region: Sign a treaty.

Overblown boson

Rex Features/AP

Number-crunching scientists at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider said in March the evidence continues to mount they have discovered the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that explains, under the Standard Model of physics, why electrons, people, and planets all have mass. Physicists first announced the presumed discovery of the particle last July, but have been checking their measurements ever since. (There remains a slim possibility the particle they discovered is not the Higgs boson but a graviton.)

Grandiose claims about the Higgs boson suggest it explains the Big Bang, and that the boson’s size “could determine the fate of the universe,” as The New York Times put it. But the so-called “God particle” isn’t the Alpha and Omega: It leaves many physics mysteries unsolved and won’t annihilate evidence of the Creator. —D.J.D.

Bacterial benefit

Associated Press/Photo by Felipe Dana

A baby’s birth route could shape his or her future health, a growing body of research suggests. Babies born by cesarean section have smaller populations of certain beneficial bacteria species in their guts, compared with babies born naturally, report scientists in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The researchers say “good bacteria” acquired from the mother’s birth canal and from breastfeeding may prime an infant’s developing immune system, making the child less susceptible later in life to allergies or asthma. —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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