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

Yehouda Enzel, Revital Bookman, David Sharon, Haim Gvirtzman, Uri Dayan, Baruch Ziv, Mordechai Stein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-273
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 504.99-13) and by an additional grant from the Ring Family Foundation provided through the Hebrew University Multidisciplinary Center for Environmental Research. Dr. Hubert (IAHS) provided some of the Beirut data. We thank A. Cohen and on anonymous reviewer for their constructive reviews.


  • Atmospheric circulation
  • Dead Sea
  • Drought
  • Eastern Mediterranean
  • History
  • Holocene
  • Hydrology
  • Lake level
  • Paleoclimate
  • Rainfall
  • Water resources


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