Geomorphology of Lake Lisan terraces along the eastern coast of the Dead Sea, Jordan

Shahrazad Abu Ghazleh, Stephan Kempe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Lake Lisan, the lake that filled the Jordan graben during the Last Glacial, left behind a well developed sequence of erosional and depositional shore terraces in the south east of the current Dead Sea. These terraces record a series of stillstands that were caused by small transgressions within an overall trend of falling lake levels. The terraces were observed in places where they had not been identified previously. The morphology of the terraces was investigated in six cross-sections using differential GPS altimetry. The levels of the terraces range between - 370 and - 148 m a.s.l. The high stand of Lake Lisan at - 148 m correlates well with the high level of - 150 m reported by Bowman and Gross [Bowman, D., Gross, T., 1992. The highest stand of Lake Lisan: ~ 150 meters below MSL. Israel Journal of Earth-Science 41, 233-237.] along the western coast of Lake Lisan. The lake terraces are horizontal, elongated and tectonically undisturbed, and have a sub-horizontal foreshore (tread) with an average slope of 8.2° and steep backshore cliff (riser) with an average slope of 17.7°. The six cross-sections show a good altitudinal correlation between their terraces. Moreover, the terraces appear in undisturbed continuity on the aerial photos. These morphological characteristics demonstrate that the retreat of the lake was a result of substantial climatic changes, not of tectonic subsidence. In-situ stromatolites were found on most of the terraces, reflecting a shallow water environment and emphasizing that these terraces are recessional. Well-developed desert varnish and Tafoni observed on blocks sitting on the terrace surfaces imply a long period of exposure and a low rate of post lacustrine erosion. The formation of Lisan terraces is constrained mainly by coastal slope, water depth and underlying lithology. The morphological analysis of these terraces allows identification of two kinds of pseudo-terraces, which were formed as a result of tread or riser destruction. U/Th and OSL dating allowed the dating of three events within the lake level curve more precisely. The high level of - 148 m occurred at 30.5 ± 0.22 ka BP, consistent with the Heinrich Event 3 and Dansgaard-Oeschger stadial 5, the coldest period in the NGRIP Greenland Ice Core record. The next lower terrace at - 154 m was formed at 22.9 ka BP ± 0.29 and corresponds to the stadial 2C, the final phase of the Last High Glacial. The correlation between the Lisan high stands and climatic stadials suggests that Northern-Hemispheric cold periods led to periods with a more positive water balance in the Near East. At ~ 10 ± 0.8 ka BP Lake Lisan experienced a sharp drop to - 200 m followed by a transgression between 9.5 to 7 ka BP.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-263
Number of pages18
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 15 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Cold stadials
  • Lacustrine terraces
  • Lake Lisan
  • Post-Glacial
  • Stromatolite
  • U/Th and OSL dating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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