Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mineral and Energy Riches

Those who search for mineral and energy wealth in Israel sometimes quote Bible passages such as Genesis 49:25, where Jacob, at the end of his life, prophetically envisioned “blessings of the deep that lies below,” or Deuteronomy 33:19, where Moses, also approaching his death, pronounced that the Chosen would “feast on the abundance of the seas, on treasures hidden in the sand.” Are these references metaphorical? Or are they literal?

In the last several months two huge natural gas discoveries off the coast of Israel are being enthusiastically heralded. Noble Energy, Inc. has drilled two wells thirty miles off Israel’s coast which have resources estimated at five trillion cubic feet. Energy-dependent Israel may even become an energy exporter when production begins, perhaps as early as 2012. Oil exploration in northern Israel and in the Dead Sea area has so far been a disappointment, but the oil geologists are not giving up the search.

The wealth extracted from the Dead Sea is already a reality. Potash, from potassium compounds dissolved in the water, is a vital component of fertilizer for plant nutrition. Dissolved compounds in the water also yield commercial bromine and magnesium metal, as well as other products. This body of water is an endorheic basin. That means water drainage enters the basin, but does not flow out of the basin at any point. Water can only leave by evaporation. This is easy to grasp when we remember that it is 1377 feet below sea level. Fresh water from the Jordan River is the main water supply, but since the 1930s, loss by evaporation has exceeded the inflow. In recent decades the Dead Sea has apparently been evaporating faster because Jordan River water flow at its mouth is a mere fraction of former times. It is used for irrigation long before it flows into the Dead Sea.

To understand why the Dead Sea contains ten times the dissolved material of the ocean, we might remember that even “pure” water from our tap will leave a small residue of minerals if we evaporate all the water out of a pan. In the case of Jordan River water draining from the mountainous areas of northern Israel, many chemical substances become dissolved in it as groundwater seeps through the soil and rocks. Chemically speaking, there is hardly such a thing as “pure” water. Small amounts of dissolved minerals entering the Dead Sea remain behind while only the water evaporates in future months or years. The mineral content of the Dead Sea has accumulated in this way and increased over many thousands of years.

In recent years a booming market in cosmetic Dead Sea minerals substances has become the fascination of beauty- and health-conscious people. I became fascinated by the scientific evidence for the benefits of Dead Sea mineral products. The mineral mud is particularly famous. My web search turned up primarily commercial websites touting their products and the benefits claimed. There are 50 modern cosmetic plants offering attractively-presented, authentic Dead Sea mineral products. Any one of them will cheerfully accept your order.