Archive for August, 2008

h1

Oil shale (part I)

August 31, 2008

One recurring question that geologists face is that of oil shale. Specifically, what potential does it have to solve the energy and economic problems that we face? Much research has been done on this material, and much of the work is well summarized by Munther Bseiso and by the late Yousef Hamarneh (updated by Jamal Alali and Suzane Sawaqed). A very short summery is available here.  Herein, I will try to shed some light on this. First, I need to give some geological and geochemical background.

In oceans, most primary productivity (plant growth) is related to micro-organisms such as algae (like diatoms). When these microscopic plants die, they usually decompose though reaction with oxygen in the water column. If there is not enough oxygen to decompose all of the plants, then the available oxygen is used up and the environment becomes anoxic. Under this condition, organic material is preserved, and sediments deposited in such an environment become organic-rich sediments.

Because sediments rich in fine grained clay materials have low permeability (i.e. they don’t let water move through them), often such sediments are organic-rich because dissolved oxygen in the overlying water column can not reach the organic materials in the sediment to decompose them. When clay-rich sediments turn into rocks (or lithify), they are called shale. When organic-rich clay rich sediments lithify, they become oil shale.

Through time and changes in physical conditions, the organic material changes it’s molecular composition, changing into complex mixtures of materials that are broadly classified as being kerogen, bitumen, or hydrocarbons. Bitumen is defined to be all the organic material that can be dissolved in organic solvents, whereas kerogen is all of the organic material that can not. Both kerogen and bitumen are solid, whereas hydrocarbon is either liquid or gas. Subjecting kerogen or bitumen to heat can lead to the release of liquid petroleum or natural gas. This can be a natural process (petroleum generation) or a synthetic one (retorting).

In Jordan, the term “oil shale” has been applied to both organic rich shale-like materials called marls as well as to organic-rich limestones. All “oil shale” in Jordan is Upper Cretaceous to Paleocene in age (80 to 60 million years old), and belongs to the Muwaqqar Chalk Marl (MCM) Formation. The MCM is exposed over large areas of Jordan, and organic-rich sections of it are found in the north and center of the country. It has been estimated that the oil shale reserves in the country amount to about 50 billion tons, with an average organic content of about 10%. This reserve is enough to meet Jordan’s energy needs for hundreds of years.

Oil shale in Jordan (from the Natural Resources Authority)

Oil shale in Jordan (from the Natural Resources Authority)

Most of the organic component in the oil shale consists of kerogen, making the chemical separation of the oil from the rock virtually impossible. Options for exploitation are either direct burning of the rock for electricity generation or retorting to extract the oil from the rock by heat. In future posts, I will discuss these options.

h1

Ramadan Kareem

August 30, 2008

Ramadan is due to start in a couple of days. It is typical during this month to hear many health claims related to the benefits of the fast. Clearly, the purpose of the ritual is not health related, but spiritual. Despite this, many seek to assert the supposed health related aspects as an important reason to fast.

In 2003, the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a very interesting review article. The article, authored by Leiper, Molla and Molla, summarized the previous medical research on the health effects of fasting during the month of Ramadan.

The major findings are summarized in the abstract:

“The majority of the studies have found significant metabolic changes, but few health problems arising from the fast. A reduction in drug compliance was an inherent negative aspect of the fast. Common findings of the studies reviewed were increased irritability and incidences of headaches with sleep deprivation and lassitude prevalent. A small body mass loss is a frequent, but not universal, outcome of Ramadan. During the daylight hours of Ramadan fasting, practising [sic] Muslims are undoubtedly dehydrating, but it is not clear whether they are chronically hypohydrated during the month of Ramadan. No detrimental effects on health have as yet been directly attributed to negative water balance at the levels that may be produced during Ramadan.”

Deeper into the paper, other concerns are raised. Cognitive function slowdown leads to statistically significant rises in accidents during the month (I could have told them that, driving in Jordan in Ramadan), heat stress, headaches resulting from dehydration and poor fetal development in late pregnancy mothers. Ancillary social behavior (i.e. changing sleep patterns) may contribute to some problems seen in Ramadan (irritability, lassitude and headaches).

Some useful health tips can be found in this booklet prepared by the UK department of health. Similar advice is given here on the BBC website. Most important is the quality and quantity of food intake at the break of the fast. Ensuring that you get enough sleep is also important.

Happy Ramadan!

h1

Health habits

August 28, 2008

A very interesting study was published in 2003 by the late Fawaz Shehab (Odeibat) and his co-workers. Fawaz was a good friend of mine, and his loss was a personal one for me. In the study, he analyzed data gleaned from the Department of Statistics’ Jordan Population and Housing Census of 2002. A number of questions were added to the survey to measure the presence of some chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes and obesity) and related behavioral patterns (smoking and exercise). While obesity is not a disease in itself, it is correlated with cardiovascular problems, specifically hypertension, and thus does represent a public health issue. Unfortunately, no data seem to have been collected on eating habits.

One might quibble about the methodology, which relied on self-reporting. However, the sample size was large enough (almost 9000) to give a reasonable indication on these issues. The data show that over 50% of males and 8% of females are smokers. They also show that only 52% of people have any weekly physical activity, and less than 32% have any vigorous physical activity. As a result, 10% of males and 16% of females are obese, and 36% of males and 28% of females are overweight (remembering that these numbers are self-reported).

So, the National Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Genetics (who have a very informative website), under the leadership of Professor Kamel Ajlouni, have been studying changes in diabetes levels. Their research shows that diabetes has increased by over 31% over the past ten years, and is currently at 17% (compared with a US average of 7%, as stated by the editor of Shehab’s article), with 8% of people being in a borderline state. Shehab’s article reports a 6.4% prevalence of diabetes, reflecting how data can change when methodologies do. I would place more stock in the NCDEG results on this issue.

It is clear that there is a lifestyle problem that is exasperating the problem of chronic diseases in Jordan. I would hope that people would heed the call of Dr. Ajlouni to increase awareness of the importance of diet, physical activity and facilitation of the environment to encourage walking.

h1

Petroleum

August 26, 2008

One of the hazards of being a geologist in Jordan is that you are always asked “Is there petroleum in Jordan?”, or “Why hasn’t oil been found? There is oil in all of the countries surrounding us”.

Of course, this last statement is always heard, but is somewhat misleading. It is implied or stated that we are incompetent or that the government wants to hide this wealth.

One must start by looking at a map.

The map clearly shows that, while yes, technically there is petroleum in most of the countries around us; the major fields are quite far from us. These are centered in a belt extending from the Arabian Gulf through northern Iraq and possibly into central Asia. We are well outside the belt.

It is no coincidence that the petroleum belt overlaps with the major tectonic plate boundary that separates the Arabian and Eurasian plates. This plate boundary is known as a convergent plate boundary, with the Arabian plate being pushed (or subducted) under the Eurasian plate. This is very different from the plate boundary separating the Arabian and African plates, where they are moving along side each other in the Jordan Valley area, and are separating in the Red Sea area. More on plate tectonics can be found here.

Not all convergent plate boundaries have oil. In fact, the scale of petroleum reserves in the Gulf far dwarf anything else in the world.

However, being outside the oil belt or away from convergent plate boundaries does not preclude the presence of oil in Jordan. Geological requirements for petroleum reserves to exist in a certain area include the following:

1- A source rock. This typically means a sedimentary rock rich in organic material (like the oil shale rocks that we keep hearing about). This source rock provides the liquid organic material known as petroleum if it goes through certain conditions. Specifically, these source rocks need to be heated to temperatures of 100-150oC (more here). If they are not heated, they remain in the form of kerogen. Studies of source rock maturation the Dead Sea area have been conducted previously.

2- A reservoir rock. This is a rock that has high enough porosity (% pore spaces) and permeability (ability to allow liquids to move) so that the petroleum can be stored in it. These are typically east to find, as they can be any number of sedimentary rocks (limestone, sandstone, dolostone, etc.). These are available in Jordan.

3- A trap. This is a feature that prevents the movement of oil. It can be a low permeability rock (known as a stratigraphic trap), or a structural feature like a fault or a fold in the rock. These are known as structural traps. These are potentially present, but are difficult to find in the subsurface, requiring detailed geophysical exploration to determine where the best potential for a trap lies. Since drilling an exploration well is very expensive, good geophysical subsurface studies are essential for an effective exploration effort.

Sadooni and Dalqamouni have suggested that oil may be present in northern Jordan, based on the presence of all of the requirements. All of these conditions are present in various areas in Jordan. The Natural Resources Authority emphasizes how little exploration has been done in an attempt to lure exploration companies into the country. Other researchers agree that conditions for petroleum in Jordan are there, but insufficient research has been done. In any case, it is doubtful that if oil is found, it will be at the scale found in our rich neighbors’ territory.

h1

As Samra Waste Water Treatment Plant

August 23, 2008

Today the new Samra WWTP was officially opened, after about five years in the works. It is notable that the announcement in the press says that the capacity of the plant is 276000 cubic meters per day (about 100 million cubic meters per year), whereas it was initially announced that the capacity would be 530000 cubic meters per day. There has been no explanation of this discrepancy.

The Samra WWTP is designed to treat domestic waste water emanation from the Zerqa river basin, which happens to include the country’s two most populated cities. Essentially, anybody who flushes his toilet in Amman or in Zerqa contributes to the load at Samra WWTP.

Moreover, the Zerqa River feeds into the 70 million cubic meters of water stored in the King Talal Dam. Therefore, any pollution in the river will lead to pollution in the dam, which in turn may affect the quality of agricultural produce in the Jordan Valley, which is partially irrigated from its waters. While there is little evidence of real deterioration of soil quality from irrigation using KTD water, there tends to be a psychological aversion to consuming this produce. Concern over microbiological contamination has lead to restrictions on the use of the treated wastewater. Typically, green vegetables are not irrigated with this water, while fruit trees are. Also, groundwater in the area of the plant has witnessed serious deterioration.

Limited water resources mean that treated waste water is considered to be a “non-conventional resource” in the Jordanian national water master plan.

The original Samra WWTP was built in 1985 with a capacity of about 67000 cubic meters per day. The plant quickly became obsolete, rendering its output water below standards and menacing water supplies, public health and agriculture in the Jordan Valley (more history here).

The new plant promises a lot, from some energy self sufficiency to odor control to promises of real-time transmission of water and air quality data. It is run by a private consortium under a BOT agreement. Hopefully, we will see a noticeable improvement in the water and air quality in Zerqa and the Zerqa River basin.

h1

Nuclear Jordan

August 20, 2008

Three years ago, I wrote an article that was published in Al Rai (available here in Arabic), where I argued for the introduction of nuclear power to Jordan. Since then, many things have happened, with the country finally taking the strategic decision to go this route. The numbers in the original article are now dated, and replacing them with newer ones makes the argument even more compelling.

This article highlights how implementation is going. People involved in the parliament and in the Jordan Nuclear Energy Commission are aiming to have the first reactor set up and operating in 2015 or 2016, depending on who in the article is quoted. The article reveals that the reactor will be in Aqaba, which is not surprising given the need for water to operate the plant. My guess that it will be in Wadi Araba, where there is enough land and where the proposed Red Sea Dead Sea canal will run, if implemented.

The article also suggests that uranium mines will be opened in central Jordan, ostensibly to run the reactors and for export. A nuclear engineering programme has been established at the Jordan University of Science and Technology for the specific purpose of providing the needed manpower for the project. Some questions remain, however.

Nobody seems to want to put a number on the electrical generating capacity of the reactor (s) that will be built. Presumably, we want to keep our options open.

As for the fuel, most reactor designs require enriched uranium to operate. Nobody has yet mentioned whether we are planning to enrich uranium, whether there will be a break in the fuel cycle (and we will import enriched uranium) or if we are planning to build pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) that do not require uranium enrichment. Importing enriched uranium means that uranium mining is a stand-alone project that is irrelevant to the nuclear programme.

Only Canada sells PHWR reactors known as CANDU reactors. There might be a political problem in eliminating other designs sold by our friends in the US, France, Russia or China. Moreover, heavy water reactors can be used to produce plutonium, which might prompt concerns over nuclear proliferation. While light water reactors require uranium enrichment, the process of producing weapons grade uranium is cumbersome and easier to monitor.

Another question is nuclear waste. Until now, there has been no mention of how the various grades of nuclear waste will be dealt with. While this is an issue that can be dealt with, it is important that discussions about it start soon. Perhaps the delay has to do with the type of reactor design that will be chosen; as PHWR produce more waste that is lower in grade. Anyway, as information becomes available I will let you know.

h1

Irbid pavements

August 19, 2008

If you have ever wondered how many ways something simple can be screwed up, you can come to Irbid and observe our pavements. These clearly show how much zift zift-work can achieve.

The typical types of flaws include:

1. The longitudinal cracks. These seem to be the result of simple aging, resulting from loss of the more volatile components of the pavement material. This loss probably causes both shrinkage and lower elasticity in the material.

2. The pot holes. These features are probably the result of growth of small holes as cars break away at the edges. These do not seem to be comparable to other potholes in the US, which are explained by either picking away at material separated by the longitudinal cracks described above, or freeze-thaw features caused by differential expansion and shrinkage.

3.  The differential settling. This is caused by poor compaction of the underlying base coarse. It is exasperated by sloppy recompaction after underground excavations are refilled and by broken water pipes.

4. I don’t know what to call these. They are deep curved cracks that extend to underlying, older pavements. The rounded curvatures around the edges seem to suggest that they are a result of almost fluid behavior. My guess it that the pavement material is too liquidy when it is placed. Presumably, it is easier to spread this way. Who cares if it busts people’s cars?

There are others, but these are the most interesting to me. Any professional feedback is welcome. (Thanks to Shabib, my photographer :)).

h1

The new archaeometry programme

August 17, 2008

As of the next semester, Yarmouk University is offering a new master’s programme in archaeological sciences, sometimes known as archaeometry. This programme has been established through funding of the EU Tempus Programme.

What is archaeometry?

Simply stated, archaeometry is the application of scientific techniques in archaeology. If you like investigative TV programmes such as CSI or NCIS, you will probably find the field of archaeometry fascinating. Archaeometry is about studying an archaeological site without exposing it (using geophysics), as well as studying remains in order to understand past lifestyles, trade routes, technologies, diseases, and other issues from the past. It also involves determining authenticity of ancient relics. In short, it is sleuthing at its finest.

How is archaeometry different from archaeology?

Archaeometry focuses more on field and lab techniques that may serve the archaeologist or museum curator. The programme envisions two types of students: Science and engineering graduates who are interested in using their backgrounds in the field of archaeology and archaeology graduates who would like to learn more about science as it is applied to archaeology.

The programme will offer courses in archaeological dating (with emphasis on radiometric techniques), geoarchaeology, analysis of bone (for diet and disease reconstructions), ancient technology and metallurgy, among others. The programme requires the preparation of a research thesis.

What opportunities exist for graduates of this programme?

The Arab world is one of the richest areas of the world in archaeological remains, with sites and artifacts extending tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Despite this, the archaeometry programme is unique in the region, and very few people can be considered qualified archaeometrists, People with science backgrounds have too little appreciation of archaeological issues and archaeology graduates typically do not have the technical backgrounds for such studies. This lack of qualified people results in poor understanding of our past, the loss of our materials to foreign researchers and to dependency on these researchers.

It is expected that graduates of this programme will be in demand for governmental archeological departments, public and private museums and academic institutions across the Middle East.

For more information

Contact me.

h1

The Disi project

August 16, 2008

After decades of starting and stalling, the Disi water conveyance project is finally being implemented. In essence, the project is a pipeline to pump about 100 million cubic meters of water from the Disi aquifer in southern Jordan, near the Saudi Arabian Border, to an increasingly thirsty Amman.

The Disi aquifer is a shared sandstone aquifer split between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The water is of excellent quality, and until now, the water has been exploited by both sides for agricultural purposes, with some being used to supply the city of Aqaba. Debate over expanded use of the resources was centered on the following issues:

  1. The use of water in Saudi Arabia. This was (and still is, to a smaller extent), used to plant wheat in the northern Saudi desert. The perceived wasteful use of water in an enterprise that is not economically viable has encouraged Jordan to grab as much of the water while it lasts (More on the conflict here).

2. Cost. Much of the delay in implementation of the project was attributed to negotiations over cost with the contractor. Since the BOT model was used (because the Jordanian government didn’t have the cash at hand), this meant that the cost of implementation and operation would reflect on the cost of water when it reached Amman. Duraid Mahasneh has argued that it would be more viable to encourage people to move south that to pump the water to the north.

3. Sustainability. Because the aquifer lies in the desert, little recharge is expected to replenish the aquifer. Government spokesmen have suggested that the water will last anywhere from 50 to 100 years. Much debate has been centered around whether the aquifer consists solely of “fossil”, i.e., non replenishable water or whether there is a recharge component in the hydrological system. Study of stable and radiocarbon isotopes of the water suggests that the water is very old (over 25,000 years). Estimates of recharge volumes range from zero to 48 million cubic meters per year (out of a total stored volume of 6 billion cubic meters). This later number was obtained by Elias Salameh and Raja Gedeon, who used a robust technique known as the Chloride Mass Balance approach. While CMB is a good tool, it tends to overestimate rather than underestimate recharge values. While there is significant evidence that recharge is taking place in the area, little has been done to use this information as a marketing tool for the project. The implication is that the project may be more sustainable than the government is suggesting.

On the other hand, El Naser and Gideon in a 1996 IAEA technical document point out that there are different types of water in the Disi basin. There is low quality water in the so-called Khreim aquifer that overlies the good quality water in the Rum aquifer. While the paper does not express serious concern about salination of the Rum aquifer, it may be something to watch out for.

It is notable that more data about the hydrogeology of the Disi basin is not available. The issue of recharge, in particular, needs more scrutiny.

Anyway, the project is now upon us, for better or for worse. There are now two approaches to managing the new system. The first is to simply pump as much water as we can to meet increasing demands, and to leave the worrying over what to do later to future generations. The second is to try and manage the aquifer in such a way as to sustain extraction. This can be done by balancing recharge with extraction, and attempting to enhance recharge. This can be done by obtaining a better understanding of the surface hydrology of the area and determining where recharge tends to occur. We owe it to our children to try and adopt the second approach.

h1

Is the proposed Red Sea-Dead Sea canal worth the cost?

August 12, 2008

Introduction

The decline in the level of the Dead Sea has led to concern about the long-term sustainability of the lake. This decline, which was caused by the diversion of fresh water from the headwaters of the lake, is estimated to range from 0.8-1 meter per year. In order to reverse this trend, it is being proposed that Red Sea water be pumped to replace the fresh water that previously flowed into the lake. Recently, an agreement was signed to study the economic feasibility of the project, which is currently expected to cost 3.3 billion dollars.

There is a clear political will to go through with this project. However, it is useful to look at the environmental and financial benefits that are expected from this project and weigh them against the enormous costs, which will be both environmental and financial.

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is a closed water body which lies at the lowest point of the Jordan Valley Rift. It consists of two distinct basins. The Northern basin is the largest, containing 131 cubic kilometers of water and occupying about 660 square kilometers out of the total of about 950 square kilometers of the historic Dead Sea. The shallow southern basin is now completely exposed, with water pumped from the northern basin to fill salt pans. These salt pans are used to extract potash and other Dead Sea chemicals.

Closed water bodies in arid regions typically fluctuate widely over time. These fluctuations reflect changes in climatic conditions that lead to changes in precipitation and evaporation rates. The Dead Sea is no exception to this. Studies indicate that during the Holocene, the water level fluctuated from a high of 280 meters below sea level 6700 years ago to a low of 396 meters below sea level 3000 years ago. The current water level is about 415 meters below sea level which is a historic low.

The famous mosaic map of the Jordan river basin in Madaba was produced 560 AD, and shows an absence of the southern basin. This indicates that the water level at the time was below 405 meters below sea level. More recently, measurements in 1865 indicate levels of 394 meters below sea level and in 1929 levels were recorded at 389 meters below sea level (Abed, A., 1985. Geology of the Dead Sea. Dar Al Arqam publishing, Amman (in Arabic)).

Thus, it is clear that the Dead Sea is dynamic in behavior, responding to changes in climatic conditions which force fluctuations in its level. The recent drop is the result of Human intervention. Historic flows into the Dead Sea were estimated to reach 1670 million cubic meters per year, whereas current inflow is estimated to be only about 400 million cubic meters per year. Given constant rates of evaporation, the drop in water level is a predictable outcome.

Dangers associated with the drop in Dead Sea water levels

From what has been discussed, fluctuations in the level of the Dead Sea are natural and part of the nature of the water body. Therefore, consideration of real and perceived dangers associated with this drop should be balanced with the dangers that might occur in case the Red-Dead Sea canal alternative is adopted.

1-Will the Dead Sea disappear?This question has been answered through a number of modeling projects which attempted to determine what might happen if conditions persist in their present form or become worse.The modeling is based on assumptions of input rates (runoff from the Jordan River and other tributaries) and direct precipitation over the water body.Assumptions concerning an evaporation rate, which is the only way for water to leave the Dead Sea, are based on studies related to how the change in salinity will affect evaporation.Evaporation decreases as salinity increases.Moreover, the drop in water level means that the surface area exposed to evaporation will steadily fall.This will also lead to drops in evaporation.

The results of models run based on these factors suggest that the Dead Sea level will reach 460 meters below sea level in 2088, and will stabilize at 520 meters below sea level in the next 400 years, when a new equilibrium will be reached. In the event that inflow falls to 300 million cubic meters per year, then the water level will be expected to fall to 560 meters below sea level in the next 400 years, when equilibrium will be attained.

Upon examining the bathymetric map of the Dead Sea, this drop will lead to the recession of between 500 and 1200 meters at the northeastern end of the water body, and at the southern end this will lead to a recession of 7 kilometers. It is noteworthy that the western shore will be much more affected by the recession of the shores than the eastern shore.

So, the Dead Sea will not disappear, but a new equilibrium will be attained in 400 years at levels ranging from 520 to 560 meters below sea level. There is no doubt that this drop will have adverse effects on the chemical industries extracting salts from the Dead Sea as well as on the tourism infrastructure built on the current situation in the area.

2-Ground water in adjacent aquifers. The major aquifers in central Jordan lie adjacent to the Dead Sea rift. Some of these aquifers are higher than the Dead Sea level and discharge as springs that eventually flow into the Dead Sea. Other aquifers lie below the Dead Sea level and discharge directly as underwater springs into the sea, and are considered to be part of the hydrological budget of the water body. Because there is a pressure balance at the fresh water-salt water interface, drops in the sea level lead to the moving of the interface towards the sea. This leads to increase in the flow of water from the aquifers into the sea, and the lowering of the water levels in the aquifers.

Typically, the fresh water salt water interface is studied for totally different reasons. In most cases, the disruption of the dynamics of the system is due to overpumping of waters in aquifers adjacent to salt water seas. Such overpumping leads to the intrusion of sea water into the aquifers, leading to deterioration of the water quality within them. In the case of the Dead Sea, it is estimated that the drop in water level leads to a losses of about 370 million cubic meters per year. In other words, this volume of water can be extracted from the aquifers without any negative impacts on the water quality within them. In my view, it seems that this is a valuable opportunity which should be taken advantage of.

3-Sinkholes.The development of massive sinkholes in the Ghor Haditheh area in the southern Dead Sea area has led to inquiries as to the reason behind their formation.Some researchers have linked the formation of the sinkholes with the drop in the Dead Sea level.

The sediments in the area where sinkholes are forming consist of a mixture of clay and evaporites known as the Lisan formation. Flow of fresh water through these sediments leads to the dissolution of the evaporites and the formation of cavities, which eventually appear as sinkholes.

Because the salt-water fresh water interface is migrating towards the direction of the sea, many researchers believe that that this migration is leading to the evaporite dissolution and the development of the sinkholes.Other explanations for this phenomenon include the possibility that crop irrigation in the area is leading to the movement of fresh water into the sediments and the formation of the cavities.

If the problem is a result of the migration of the salt water fresh water interface, then increased extraction of fresh water from the aquifers in the area, as explained above, should alleviate this problem by stopping to movement of the interface. On the other hand, if the cause is related to agricultural practices in the area, then the problem is not related to the drop in the Dead Sea level.

Why the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal?

Reasons given to justify this problem can be enumerated as follows:

1-“Saving” the Dead Sea

2- Protecting the ground water in the adjacent aquifers.

3- Stopping the development of sinkholes.

4- Generating electricity.

5- Desalination.

Given that the first three points have already been discussed previously, the final two are herein analyzed.

A- Generation of electricity.The idea of a Mediterranean-Dead Sea canal has long been discussed.Theodor Hertzl proposed the idea in 1902 as a way to utilize the elevation difference between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea (about 400 meters) for hydroelectric generation.

It is estimated that the flow of 1600 million cubic meters per year down this elevation difference is capable of generating 860 million kilowatt hours per year. This is equivalent to a generating capacity of 100 megawatts. Given that this is a relatively modest amount of electricity compared to the cost of implementing it, it has been proposed to use the energy for desalination.

B- Official statements on the project suggest that it will be possible to desalinate 850 million cubic meters per year from the project.Since the amount of energy to be generated from the project is estimated to be about 860 million kilowatt hours per year, the implication is that it will take about 1 kilowatt hour to desalinate one cubic meter of fresh water from the Red Sea.

Available sources on energy needs for the desalination of sea water using currently adopted technologies (reverse osmosis) suggest that the minimum requirement for the desalination is 5 to 7 kilowatt hours per cubic meter of water. It is obvious that additional sources of energy will be needed to desalinate the volume of water envisioned by the project proponents.

Potential risks of implementation of the project

In addition to the high cost of the project, a number of environmental issues need to be considered before moving forward with this project. A number are mentioned here.

1- Salination of the Dead Sea. This might seem ironic, since the Dead Sea is already highly saline, with salt contents reaching over 30% of the volume of the water. However, it is important to note that much of the value of the Dead Sea is derived from its chemistry and its beauty.

Adding sea water and reject water from the desalination process will lead to sharp increases in the salt content of the Dead Sea water. This is because as saline water is added at a rate proportional to the evaporation levels of the sea, the water added will evaporate, but the salts within it will not. This will lead to further dissolved salt buildup in the water body.

When salinity reaches higher levels, massive deposition of halite and gypsum are to be expected. The deposition of salt as massive mushrooms in the southern basin already causes hindrance for potash production and has clearly led to the deterioration of the aesthetic value of the area. Similar problems might arise in the northern basin as salinity rises and the deposition of these salts becomes a chemical necessity.

2- Pollution of aquifers in Wadi Araba. The alluvial deposits on the edges of the rift valley contain significant amounts of fresh water being used by the inhabitants of the area as well as the Arab Potash Company. The conveyance canal containing sea water will probably traverse some of these aquifers. The possibility of leakage from the canal or pipeline will present a continued threat towards the waters within these aquifers, especially given that the area is seismically active.

3- Cultural heritage. The canal/pipeline system will go through areas of high cultural significance. Prominent among these is the Faynan area, which is a world famous and significant copper mining site, believed to be the oldest copper mining and smelting site in the world. It is hoped that the implementation of the canal project will take into consideration the significance of this site.

Conclusions

1- The fluctuation of the level of the Dead Sea can not be considered an environmental disaster, since this is a natural process which has gone on throughout the Holocene. The idea that the Dead Sea will dry up is not true.

2- The damage from the drop of the Dead Sea level can be quantified, as it is tied to the chemical and tourism industries in the area.

3- The drop in the water level provides opportunities to increase extraction of fresh water from adjacent aquifers with no dire environmental consequences. Moreover, expanded extraction of ground water might lead to the reduction of sinkhole development in the southern Dead Sea area.

4- The amount of energy expected from the canal project is modest in proportion to the high cost of the canal.

5- More energy capacity needs to be installed in order to reach the target level of desalinating 850 million cubic meters of water per year.

6- A number of environmental issues related to the implementation of the project need to be studied carefully before moving forward with this project.

Therefore, a critical analysis of the benefits and costs of this project needs to be conducted before moving forward with it.