Scale-free distribution of Dead Sea sinkholes: Observations and modeling

H. Yizhaq, C. Ish-Shalom, E. Raz, Y. Ashkenazy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There are currently more than 5500 sinkholes along the Dead Sea in Israel. These were formed due to the dissolution of subsurface salt layers as a result of the replacement of hypersaline groundwater by fresh brackish groundwater. This process has been associated with a sharp decline in the Dead Sea water level, currently more than 1 m/yr, resulting in a lower water table that has allowed the intrusion of fresher brackish water. We studied the distribution of the sinkhole sizes and found that it is scale free with a power law exponent close to 2. We constructed a stochastic cellular automata model to understand the observed scale-free behavior and the growth of the sinkhole area in time. The model consists of a lower salt layer and an upper soil layer in which cavities that develop in the lower layer lead to collapses in the upper layer. The model reproduces the observed power law distribution without involving the threshold behavior commonly associated with criticality.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)4944-4952
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - 28 May 2017


  • Dead Sea
  • cellular automata
  • power laws
  • scale free
  • sinkholes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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