The timing of vertical motions adjacent to the Dead Sea Transform plate boundary is not yet firmly established. We utilize laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) U-Pb geochronology of carbonate cave deposits (speleothems) to constrain paleo-groundwater levels along the western margin of the Dead Sea Transform and provide a proxy for the timing of large-scale incision and tectonic uplift. Phreatic speleothems can form in caves that are located slightly below the groundwater level. Tectonic uplift and/or base level subsidence can trigger incision of canyons and induce a drop in the groundwater table. This can cause dewatering of the caves, cessation of the deposition of phreatic speleothems, and initiation of growth of vadose speleothems. The transition between deposition of phreatic and vadose speleothems can therefore reflect tectonic or erosive events.
We obtained 102 U-Pb ages from 32 speleothems collected from three cave complexes across a 150-km-long, north-to-south transect. These ages indicate that phreatic deposition began between 14.68 ± 1.33 and 11.34 ± 1.62and ended by 6.21 ± 0.59 Ma. Later, vadose speleothems grew intermittently until the Quaternary. These results suggest an abrupt drop in the water table starting at ca. 6 Ma with no re-submergence of the caves. We interpret this to indicate river incision of ∼150−200 m that was driven by uplift and folding of the western margin of the Dead Sea Transform and by inland morpho-tectonic, base-level subsidence in the Dead Sea area. The observed timing corresponds with a change in the Euler pole of the plates motion along the Dead Sea Transform. The growth period of phreatic speleothems suggests groundwater level stability and limited vertical tectonic motions between 14 Ma and 6 Ma.