Stromatolites in caves of the Dead Sea Fault Escarpment: implications to latest Pleistocene lake levels and tectonic subsidence


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January 2009


A varied assemblage of algal stromatolites was encountered in caves along the northern section of the Dead Sea Fault Escarpment. The caves are situated at the lower part of the escarpment at altitudes −310 to −188 m relative to mean sea level (m.s.l.), i.e. ca 110–230 m above the present Dead Sea level. The cave stromatolites are mainly composed of aragonite yielding U–Th ages of ∼75–17 ka. The altitude, mineralogy and ages, as well as comparison with previously documented stromatolite outcrops in the area, ascribe the cave stromatolites to the aragonite-precipitating hypersaline Lake Lisan—the Late Pleistocene predecessor of the Dead Sea. The stromatolites are used as a lake level gauge, based on the algae being reliant upon the light of the upper water layer. Preservation of the original structure and aragonite mineralogy of the stromatolites, suggests a closed system regarding the radioactive elements, enabling reliable U–Th dating. A curve of Lake Lisan levels is constructed based on the stromatolite ages and cave elevations. The following points are noted: (1) Lake levels of −247 m relative to m.s.l., are recorded at ∼75–72.5 ka; (2) relatively high lake levels above −220 m relative to m.s.l., are achieved at ∼41.5 ka, and are still recorded at ∼17 ka; (3) the peak level is −188 m relative to m.s.l., at ∼35.5–29.5 ka. These results indicate lake stands up to 80 m higher than previously accepted, for large parts of the Lake Lisan time span. This difference is explained by tectonic subsidence of up to 2.2 m/ka within the Dead Sea depression since the latest Pleistocene. This subsidence rate is in the same order of magnitude with previously calculated subsidence rates for the Dead Sea depression [Begin, Z.B., Zilberman, E., 1997. Main Stages and Rate of the Relief Development in Israel. Geological Survey of Israel report, Jerusalem]. Unlike previous Lake Lisan level estimations, the new curve is measured at the relatively stable shoulders of the Dead Sea depression.


Stromalites, Caves, Dead Sea Fault Escarpment, Karst, Lake Lisan

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Quaternary Science Reviews, Vol. 28, no. 1-2 (2009-01-01).