Skip to main content Accessibility help

Late Holocene climates of the Near East deduced from Dead Sea level variations and modern regional winter rainfall

  • Yehouda Enzel (a1) (a2), Revital Bookman (Ken Tor) (a1) (a3), David Sharon (a1), Haim Gvirtzman (a1), Uri Dayan (a2), Baruch Ziv (a2) (a4) and Mordechai Stein (a3)...


The Dead Sea is a terminal lake of one of the largest hydrological systems in the Levant and may thus be viewed as a large rain gauge for the region. Variations of its level are indicative of the climate variations in the region. Here, we present the decadal- to centennial-resolution Holocene lake-level curve of the Dead Sea. Then we determine the regional hydroclimatology that affected level variations. To achieve this goal we compare modern natural lake-level variations and instrumental rainfall records and quantify the hydrology relative to lake-level rise, fall, or stability. To quantify that relationship under natural conditions, rainfall data pre-dating the artificial Dead Sea level drop since the 1960s are used. In this respect, Jerusalem station offers the longest uninterrupted pre-1960s rainfall record and Jerusalem rains serve as an adequate proxy for the Dead Sea headwaters rainfall. Principal component analysis indicates that temporal variations of annual precipitation in all stations in Israel north of the current 200 mm yr−1 average isohyet during 1940–1990 are largely synchronous and in phase (∼70% of the total variance explained by PC1). This station also represents well northern Jordan and the area all the way to Beirut, Lebanon, especially during extreme drought and wet spells. We (a) determine the modern, and propose the past regional hydrology and Eastern Mediterranean (EM) climatology that affected the severity and length of droughts/wet spells associated with multiyear episodes of Dead Sea level falls/rises and (b) determine that EM cyclone tracks were different in average number and latitude in wet and dry years in Jerusalem. The mean composite sea level pressure and 500-mb height anomalies indicate that the potential causes for wet and dry episodes span the entire EM and are rooted in the larger-scale northern hemisphere atmospheric circulation. We also identified remarkably close association (within radiocarbon resolution) between climatic changes in the Levant, reflected by level changes, and culture shifts in this region.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Fax: +972-2-5662581.E-mail address: (Y. Enzel).


Hide All
Air Ministry Meteorological Office Weather in the Mediterranean, Vol. 1. (1962). Her Majesty's Stationary Office, London.
Amiran, D.H.K., (1995). Climatic Data for Jerusalem. Jerusalem Inst. for Israel Studies, Jerusalem., 141 p
Bar-Matthews, M., Ayalon, A., Kaufman, A., and Wasserburg, G.J., (1999). The eastern Mediterranean paleoclimate as a reflection of regional events. Soreq Cave, Israel. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 166, 8595.
Barnston, A., and Livezey, R.E., (1987). Classification, seasonality and persistence of low-frequency circulation patterns. Monthly Weather Reviews 115, 10831126.
Bartov, Y., Stein, M., Enzel, Y., Agnon, A., and Reches, Z., (2002). Lake levels and sequence stratigraphy of Lake Lisan, the late Pleistocene precursor of the Dead Sea. Quaternary Research 57, 921.
Bookman (Ken-Tor), R., Enzel, Y., Agnon, A., Stein, M. (in press). Late Holocene lake-levels of the Dead Sea. Geological Society of America Bulletin,
Cullen, H.M., and deMenocal, P., (2000). North Atlantic influence on Tigris-Euphrates streamflow. International Journal of Climatology 20, 853863.
Cullen, H., M., Kaplan, A., Arkin, P.A., and deMenocal, P.B., (2002). Impact of the North Atlantic Oscillation on Middle Eastern climate and streamflow. Climatic Change 55, 315338.
deMenocal, P.B., (2001). Cultural responses to climate change during the late Holocene. Science 292, 667673.
Enzel, Y., Kadan, G., and Eyal, Y., (2000). Holocene earthquakes inferred from a fan-delta sequence in the Dead Sea graben. Quaternary Research 53, 3448.
Eshel, G., Farrell, C.M., and Farrell, B., (2000). Forecasting eastern Mediterranean droughts. Monthly Weather Reviews 128, 36183630.
Frumkin, A., Magaritz, M., Carmi, I., and Zak, I., (1991). The Holocene climatic record of the salt caves of Mount Sedom, Israel. Holocene 1, 191200.
Frumkin, A., Kadan, G., Enzel, Y., and Eyal, Y., (2001). Radiocarbon chronology of the Holocene Dead Sea. Attempting a regional correlation. Radiocarbon 43, 11791189.
Issar, A., and Tsoar, H., (1987). Who is to blame for the desertification of the Negev?. International Association of Hydrology Scientist Publication 168, 577583.
Issar, A.S., Govrin, Y., Geyh, M.A., Wakshal, E., and Wolf, M., (1992). Climate changes during the upper Holocene in Israel. Israel Journal of Earth Sciences 40, 219223.
Kadan, G. (1996). Evidence of Dead Sea Lake Level Fluctuations and Recent Tectonism From the Holocene Fan-Delta of Nahal Darga. M.Sc. Thesis, Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheba. [In Hebrew]
Ken-Tor, R., Agnon, A., Enzel, Y., Stein, M., Marco, S., and Negendank, J.F.W., (2001). High-resolution geological record of historic earthquakes in the Dead Sea Basin. Journal of Geophysical Research 106, 2 22212234.
Ken-Tor, R., Stein, M., Enzel, Y., Agnon, A., Marco, S., and Negendank, J.F.W., (2001). Precision of calibrated radiocarbon ages of historic earthquakes in the Dead Sea Basin. Radiocarbon 43, 3 13711381.
Klein, C., (1961). On Fluctuations of the Level of the Dead Sea Since the Beginning of the 19th Century, Hydrological Paper 7. Israel Hydrological Service, Jerusalem.
Klein, C., (1986). Fluctuations of the Level of the Dead Sea and Climatic Fluctuations during Historical Times. Ph.D. dissertation. Hebrew University, Jerusalem. [In Hebrew with English abstract]
Klein, C., and Flohn, H., (1987). Contribution to the knowledge of the fluctuations of the Dead Sea level. Theoretical and Applied Climatology 38, 151156.
Kutiel, H., Hirsch-Eshkol, T.R., and Turkes, M., (2001). Sea level pressure pattern associated with dry or wet monthly rainfall conditions in Turkey. Theoretical Applied Climatogy 69, 3967.
Kutiel, H., and Benaroch, Y., (2002). North Sea–Caspian Pattern (NCP)—An upper level atmospheric teleconnection affecting the Eastern Mediterranean. identification and definition. Theoretical and Applied Climatology 71, 1728.
Machlus, M., Enzel, Y., Goldstein, S.L., Marco, S., and Stein, M., (2000). Reconstructing low levels of Lake Lisan by correlating fan-delta and lacustrine deposits. Quaternary International 73-74, 137144.
Mann, M.E., (2002). Large-scale climate variability and connections with the Middle East in the past. Climatic Change 55, 287314.
Neev, D., Emery, K.O., (1967). The Dead Sea. Geological Survey of Israel Bulletin 41
Neev, D., and Emery, K.O., (1995). The Destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jericho. Oxford University Press, New York.
Nuzhet, D., , H., Kukla, G., and Weiss, H. (1997). Third Millennium B.C. Climate Change and Old World Collapse. NATO ASI Series I: Global Environmental Change, . Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
Plassard, J., (1973). Etude de la variabilite des pluies annuelles a Beyrouth (1876–1972). Annales-Memoires de l'Observatoire de Ksara, Tome III., Cahier 1. Liban, Zahle
Rosenan, N., (1955). One hundred years of rainfall in Jerusalem. a homotopic series of annual amounts. Israel Exploration J. 5, 27153.
Rosenan, N., (1959). Notes on rainfall fluctuations in Palestine and climatic fluctuations in the Northern Hemisphere. Bulletin of the Research Council of Israel. 9, 4 185191. as cited in Neumann, J. 1960]
Shay-El, Y., and Alpert, P., (1991). A diagnostic study of winter diabatic heating in the Mediterranean in relation to cyclones. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 117, 715747.
Stanhill, G., and Rapaport, C., (1988). Temporal and spatial variation in the volume of rain falling annually in Israel. Israel Journal of Earth Sciences 37, 211221.
Striem, H.L., (1977). A long-term (1860–1970) change in the regime of barometric pressure at Jerusalem and its relation to rainfall. Israel Journal of Earth Sciences 26, 2429.
Striem, H.L., (1974). The mutual independence of climatological seasons as reflected by temperatures at Jerusalem 1861–1960. Israel Journal of Earth Sciences 23, 5562.
Touchan, R., and Hughes, M.K., (1999). Dendrochronology in Jordan. Journal of Arid Environments 42, 291303.
Weiss, H., and Bradley, R.S., (2001). What drives societal collapse?. Science 291, 609610.
Weiss, H., Courty, M.A., Wetterstrom, W., Guichard, F., Senior, L., Meadow, R., and Curnow, A., (1993). The genesis and collapse of third millennium North Mesopotamian civilization. Science 261, 9951004.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed