Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Dead Sea

One of the highlights of our trip to Jordan was swimming in the Dead Sea. I knew that it was the saltiest body of water in the world, but I was surprised at how salty that really is. I mean, significantly saltier than I'd imagined. Actually, it's hard to grasp just how salty it really is unless you've been there, but I'm going to try to describe it to you in this post.
Our view of the Dead Sea
The kids were up by 6, which was unfortunate after our long day yesterday driving from Wadi Rum to Aqaba, with a brief stop over at Kerak Castle before rolling into the Mövenpick around 9pm. The resort is quiet, dare I say "dead"? I've heard that tourism in the region has decreased, and we've only seen a few other guests since we arrived.
Mövenpick Resort and Spa, Dead Sea
After breakfast, we went for a swim in the Dead Sea. But I would hardly call it 'swimming', since you generally feel like you're rolling around on slippery water bed. How's this for an absolutely terrible visual image:
when I tried to tread water, I ended up floating upright in the water such that my nipples were right at the surface. That's buoyancy for you. I actually had a very hard time getting my shoulders under water. Try as I might, I simply couldn't get submerged (not that I really wanted to get my eyes or mouth underwater). I also tried to do some water aerobics: my arms were well above the surface of the water, so resistance was futile.

RRR is down to get low.

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However, when I was laying on my chest, it seemed like it was actually a good back stretch. Kinda like when you're face down on a waterbed. That said, it was surprisingly difficult to roll from front to back or vice versa, like the sea wanted me to stay how I was. So you might be wondering, what makes the Dead Sea so unusual? Hyper-salinity. But what does that really mean?
RRR lounges in the Dead Sea
Now for the science-y part of this post (with references). I'll only digress for a minute, but knowing just how salty the Dead Sea is will give you a greater appreciation of the story. Conceptually, salinity is the quantity of dissolved salt content of the water.

Seawater typically has a salinity of around 35 g/kg, for a salinity of 3.5%.  If you remember your chemistry, 1 liter (33.814 oz, basically a quart) of water weighs 1 kilogram (kg). 35 grams is roughly 2.3 tablespoons. So, sea water has 2.3 tablespoons of salt in 1 liter of water.

3.5% salinity (ocean water) looks like this:
plus
Ok, so technically, the 1 Tbsp + 1/2 Tbsp + 1 tsp + 1/2 tsp + 1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp shown above is only 31.88 grams, so imagine them slightly heaping.

This is where it gets crazy. The Dead Sea has a salinity of 34.2%. That's 10 times normal seawater, with 342 grams of salt per liter of water. If you double 342 grams, you get 684 grams, which is about 53 grams shy of a standard 26 oz container of Morton's iodized salt. So, pour 3.5 tablespoons of salt out of the container and throw the rest into two liters of water.

34.2% salinity (ocean water) looks like this:
 plus  plus minusminus


Ok, now back to the story.

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What the Dead Sea looked like: The high salinity basically created a halocline, and moving my arms around mixed the salt solutions and made the water all blurry, like what you see when you drop ice into triple sec. What it felt like: An almost-oily level of slickness on my legs. Kinda gross when I think about it. Our kids didn't like swimming in the Dead Sea very much at all, or at least that's how I interpreted their complaints of burning in their eyes (and elsewhere).
Our kids had a hard time getting all the salt off.
I guess I should also mention that the salt isn't just your typical table salt NaCL. There are so many minerals in the water and nearby mud that taking a Dead Sea mud bath is almost as popular as swimming in the Dead Sea. At the end of everything, I just remember how salty my lips felt. Yuck. We hosed off on deck while talking about how this compared to the champagne bubble spring at the Cleopatra Baths in Turkey, the Szechenyi Thermal Baths in Budapest, and the Daecheon Beach Mud Festival.
The mineral rich mud is also considered to be therapeutic.
After our Dead Sea swim, we had mojitos and caipirhinas by the pool, followed by a buffet dinner in the resort restaurant. And that's how we ended our Jordanian vacation. If you want to read more about it, check out the summary below or jump straight to the posts on PetraWadi RumKerak Castle.

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