Abstract

Thick sequences of salt (halite) have been recovered in a 456-m-long core drilled at the deepest floor of the Dead Sea by the Dead Sea Deep Drilling Project and extending ∼200 k.y. back in time. The salt sequences were precipitated in the ancient lake that occupied the Dead Sea Basin during the last three interglacials during intervals of extreme aridity in the lake’s watershed. The salt layers alternate with “mud” layers that indicate wetter periods in the watershed, when floods transported fine detritus matter to the lake. The salt sources include brine discharge and freshwater runoff that dissolved halite units. Dissolved salts accumulated in the lake during glacials and relatively wet periods when the lake expanded, and precipitated during interglacials when the lake levels dropped.

This study establishes for the first time the evaporite facies and sedimentological features of the deep Dead Sea brine during interglacial periods, by using the modern precipitation of halite in the Dead Sea as an analogue for past halite depositional periods as recorded in the drill core. The halite intervals provide a record of facies characterizing a deep-water evaporitic environment. The halite layers consist mainly of two types of crystals: small cumulate crystals containing halite rafts, which indicate precipitation from the surface brine of the lake (epilimnion), and bottom-growth (usually large) halite crystals that precipitated on the lake floor (hypolimnion). The layers of small halite crystals formed during drier periods as compared to the bottom-growth crystals. The bottom-growth halite crystals contain variable quantities of detritus and show mild dissolution structures at the contact between the mud and the halite crystals. These two main types of halite, in combination with “muds” and gypsum, comprise seven categories of salt facies that reflect the hydrological conditions (dry-to-wet), and that display a cyclic (decadal to millennial) pattern along the sampled core intervals. Frequent alternation of these two salt crystal types suggests seasonal changes, whereby the small cumulate crystals were formed during the summer, and the bottom-growth crystals were formed during the winter, when the surface temperatures of the lake were low, and the surface water was less saline and less likely to be saturated with respect to halite. Comparison of the last interglacial halite with the modern halite facies, together with the absence of significant dissolution features within the halite and the cyclic nature of the facies, indicates that the lake was continuously deep (>100 m) during the last 200 k.y.

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