Below Sea Level: The World's Ten Lowest Points of Land

Updated on October 13, 2016

Unknown to many is the fact that there is dry land below the level of the ocean. It sounds counter-intuitive but our planet has a number of dry patches of land which occur, unbelievably, below 0 feet—or mean sea level. The origins of these areas, featured below, are mostly the result of two geological and geographical phenomena. The first is a rift valley, or an area on the surface of the Earth which is being split or rended apart, causing the ground to 'drop' resulting in a graben. The second is merely the drying of lake or sea. Dry climates, or deserts, are handmaidens of these two aforementioned phenomena as previously submerged areas have gradually been evaporated leaving dry ground below sea level. In other instances, the most famous being in the Netherlands, people have reclaimed land from the sea or a lake and built protective walls around the reclaimed land, and often the areas reclaimed fall slightly below sea level.

Zuidplaspolder, Netherlands.
Zuidplaspolder, Netherlands. | Source

1. Lammefjord, Denmark & Zuidplaspolder, Netherlands

Western Europe’s two lowest points are split between two areas in Denmark and the Netherlands respectively, each 23 feet below sea level (-7 meters.) Unlike the other areas on this page, both low points are the result of human-induced land drainage. The polders in the Netherlands are areas that were reclaimed from the sea by the Dutch since the 13thcentury. Land was drained and a wall was built up around it to protect it from the sea, not unlike natural levees that formed in the lower Mississippi River near New Orleans that left some areas around the Crescent City five to seven feet below sea level. Similar to Zuidplaspolder, Lammefjord in Denmark was reclaimed to make room for agricultural land. An arm of the Isefjord, it was finally pumped dry of water in 1943, and a dyke was constructed to keep water out.

Lake Hart in the Lake Eyre basin, South Australia.
Lake Hart in the Lake Eyre basin, South Australia. | Source

2. Lake Eyre, Australia

Occasionally this basin will fill with water, temporarily turning it into Australia’s largest lake, but the occasion is only ephemeral. Most of the time the Lake Eyre Basin in South Australia is the continent’s lowest point at 49 feet below sea level (15 meters.) Filled with a salt pan and having no outlets, similar to many of the Earth’s below-sea-level basins, Lake Eyre is typically hot for most of the year and located in a desert. The basin floor is the remnant of an ancient lake bed.

Pelicans at the Salton Sea, California.
Pelicans at the Salton Sea, California. | Source

3. Salton Sea, California, USA

The Salton Sea sits in a graben in the Southern California desert, submerging part of the otherwise exposed San Andreas rift zone between two continental plates, not unlike the Dead Sea rift zone between Israel and Jordan, the lowest spot on earth. The Salton Sea is 234 feet (71.3 meters) below sea level and is a saline lake as well as the largest lake in California. With a maximum depth of 43 feet (13 meters), the lake’s deepest point is only 5 feet higher than Death Valley’s Badwater. The lake was formed in 1905 after heavy rains swelled waters enough to overrun canals in the Imperial Valley. The excess water flowed back into the basin to the north. Various settlements have attempted to exploit the lake recreationally with some sporadic success but the Salton Sea remains threatened by increasing levels of salinity and fertilizer runoff from the Imperial Valley. Still, it remains an important bird migratory stop on the North American flyway. Fishing for Tilapia is popular as it's the only species that can survive the levels of salinity here at 5.0% w/v.

'Badwater', Death Valley, California. Telescope Peak is in the background (left).
'Badwater', Death Valley, California. Telescope Peak is in the background (left). | Source

4. Death Valley, California, USA

This is the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America. The ancient lakebed which serves as the floor of this graben is 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level and the lowest point is known as ‘Badwater.’ Death Valley, like many other deep valleys in the same region, is the result of a block of the Earth’s crust sinking as the ‘skin’ gets stretched forming the basin and range region of the area collectively known as the Great Basin. Interestingly, there is a marker on the cliff overhead which denotes ‘Sea Level’, or zero feet. Across the salt flat is the summit of Telescope Peak which rises to more than 11,000 feet above sea level—a huge contrast in elevations and life zones respectively. Death Valley is within Death Valley National Park in the Mojave Desert of California and is easily accessed by roadways. Not to anyone’s surprise, it is not often visited in the summer because of the extreme heat.

5. Argentina: Laguna del Carbon, Bajo del Gualicho, Salina Grande, and Saline Chica

Within Argentina are all of the significant areas in South America that are below sea level. Among them is the lowest place in the southern and western hemisphere respectively, the Laguna del Carbon which bottoms out at -344 feet (-105 meters.) All three areas are located in the southern provinces of Argentina. The Laguna del Carbon, in Santa Cruz Province, is an endorheic salt lake, meaning it has no outflow or is in a closed basin. Bajo del Gualicho, in Rio Negro Province, is 236 feet below sea level (-72 meters.) Best known for its wildlife, the Valdes Peninsula in Chubut Province is home to the barren Salina Grande and Salina Chica which have a low elevation of -138 feet (-42 meters.)

Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan.
Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan. | Source

6. Caspian Sea/Caspian Depression

The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water in the world and its shore is 92 feet below sea level (-28 meters.) It sits at the bottom of the largest area in the world below sea level straddling the borders of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. It’s a salt lake and considered endorheic having no natural outflow. The deepest dry point of this huge depression lies in Kazakhstan. Known as the Caspian Depression in general, the low point, Karigiye, is 433 feet (–132 meters) below sea level which is a karst trench on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea.

Siwa Oasis, Qattara Depression, Egypt.
Siwa Oasis, Qattara Depression, Egypt. | Source

7. Qattara Depression, Egypt

Africa is home to the largest number of places below sea level and North Africa in particular has the most locations within the continent. The Qattara Depression in Egypt’s Libyan Desert, Africa’s second lowest point, is a huge area covering over 7,000 square miles of land, below sea level, averaging close to 200 feet below sea level (-70 meters.) The maximum depth below sea level reaches -436 feet (-133 meters.) An endorheic basin, the Qattara Depression is very dry but supports oases, of which the most famous are Siwa and Cana, both inhabited. Salt pans, dunes, and bizarre wind-eroded rocks are common in the Qattara Depression. Other areas in North Africa below sea level include Sebkha paki Tah, Morocco, (-55 meters/-180 feet below sea level), Sabkhat Ghuzayyil, Libya (-47 meters/-154 feet), Chott Melrhir, Algeria (-40 m/-131 feet), and Shatt al Gharsah, Tunisia (-17 m/-56 feet.)

Bezeklik, Turpan Depression, China.
Bezeklik, Turpan Depression, China. | Source

8. Turpan Depression, China

This trough is the Earth’s third lowest point reaching an elevation of 505 feet below sea level (-154 meters.) Located in China’s western desert region south of Mongolia, the Turpan Depression is the country’s hottest and driest area. Formed by a fault, this depression is huge and expansive and is surrounded by some of the tallest mountains on earth, notably the Tian Shan and Bogda Shan. The region has a storied history and the ruins found throughout the basin are attributed to the Silk Road route that ran through here two thousand years ago. A crossroads of cultures, some of the historic and archeological sites in the region include the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, the Gaochang Ruins, and the Astana-Karakhoja ancient tombs.

Lake Assal, Djibouti.
Lake Assal, Djibouti. | Source

9. Lake Assal, Djibouti

Lake Assal is at the bottom of a crater lake which lies 509 feet (-155 meters) below sea level, making it the second lowest point on earth after the Dead Sea rift zone. The larger region, known as the Afar Depression, extends into Ethiopia where the Danakil Depression has a low elevation of 410 feet below sea level (-125 meters.) National Geographic described it as the “cruelest place on earth.” The area is at the northern reaches of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, which is an elongated rift valley where two plates are splitting apart. Lake Assal is the lowest point of land in Africa and it is marked by extremely high temperatures, volcanic landscapes, and desert—typical of most the Earth’s low points.

Dead Sea from the Israeli side.
Dead Sea from the Israeli side. | Source

10. Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee, Israel, Jordan

The Dead Sea is the world’s lowest point of land at 1,388 feet below sea level (-423 meters), more than twice as deep as the remaining areas below sea level. Sitting between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea is incredibly saline, at 33.7%, and mostly devoid of life. Connected by the Jordan River fifty miles to the north, the Sea of Galilee, also called Lake of Gennesaret, Kinneret, and Lake Tiberias, is the world’s lowest freshwater lake at 702 feet below sea level (-214 meters), making it the second lowest point on the Earth’s surface. While the Dead Sea is considered a hypersaline, endorheic body of water, the Sea of Galilee has both an inflow and outflow provided by the Jordan River. The two bodies of water can hardly be more of a contrast. Occupying the Jordan Rift Valley, the Dead Sea is a stark, forbidding landscape seemingly barren of life whereas the Sea of Galilee, true to its biblical roots, is life-giving with leafy shores now occupied by dozens of resort hotels which sit adjacent to fertile groves of fruit orchards. The area’s historical significance requires no special explanation as both lakes are located at arguably the world’s crossroads of history and civilization.

show route and directions
A markerLammefjord, Denmark -
Lammefjord, Denmark
get directions

B markerLake Eyre, Australia -
Lake Eyre SA 5733, Australia
get directions

C markerSalton Sea -
Salton Sea, California, USA
get directions

D markerDeath Valley -
Death Valley, CA, USA
get directions

E markerSanta Cruz Province, Argentina -
Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
get directions

F markerCaspian Sea -
Caspian Sea
get directions

G markerSiwa, Egypt -
Siwa Oasis, Qesm Siwah, Matrouh Governorate, Egypt
get directions

H markerTurpan, China -
Turpan, Xinjiang, China
get directions

I markerLake Assal -
Lac 'Assal, Djibouti
get directions

J markerDead Sea and Sea of Galilee -
Sea of Galilee
get directions

Questions & Answers


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      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 2 years ago

        Talers - quite right! When I was there the shores were littered with dead Tilapia.

      • Talers profile image

        Alan 2 years ago from San Diego

        I actually live pretty close to the Salton sea; it's definitely an interesting place; you bring up a good point about its endangerment though; high salinity, drought and pollution are making it more of an unlivable ecosystem...

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 4 years ago

        Easy Exercise - thank you! Always appreciate nice comments!

      • Easy Exercise profile image

        Kelly A Burnett 4 years ago from United States


        Fascinating hub! Wow! Had no idea. And so well researched and mapped! Outstanding achievement. Thank you!

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 4 years ago

        idigwebsites - thank you for your compliments and I am glad to hear that my hub was informative!

      • idigwebsites profile image

        idigwebsites 4 years ago from United States

        A well-written, well-researched hub. I didn't understand what does "below sea level" mean, but I'm glad you presented this very well. Thank you. :)

      • Lovelovemeloveme profile image

        Lovelovemeloveme 5 years ago from Cindee's Land

        Great hub! interesting and beautiful landscapes. Good job ! thanks for the hub and doing the research for us all.

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 5 years ago

        TheHoleStory - I don't recall my ears popping when I was in Death Valley, just very hot, but I appreciate your after thought. Many thanks for taking interest!

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 5 years ago

        Daniel - not sure what you mean here (?). I'm not aware of any land below sea level in southern Africa.

      • TheHoleStory profile image

        TheHoleStory 5 years ago from Parsons, West Virginia

        This is an extremely interesting idea for a hub, and filled with great information. I noticed that there's no pattern whatsoever $6 on the map with these the lowest points of land below sea level. I really wonder if a person's ears pop at these levels like when you go under water or high up in the air in an airplane.

      • profile image

        Daniel 5 years ago

        Tell me, where do you place southern AFRICA in terms of this?

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        Eep63 - thank you kindly for your approving words and interest. Places like these never cease to fascinate me!

      • Eep63 profile image

        Eep63 6 years ago from Calgary, AB

        Very interesting. I was familiar with only a few of those places. Good job on researching your information - great pictures too!

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        Marcy - Many thanks for reading and voting up. Appreciate your interest and hope this helps you in your next trivia match!

      • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

        Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

        I could have used this info in a trivia sorta game recently. Great hub! Well researched and very well written. Voted up and interesting.

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        AfricaResource - Not really. Lake Tanganyika would still be about a thousand feet above sea level even if you drained it. It sits at an elevation of about 2,550' and is 1,470' feet deep. Thanks for visiting and taking interest!

      • AfricaResource profile image

        AfricaResource 6 years ago from Dorking, Surrey, United Kingdom

        Lake Tanganyika is definitely one of the lowest points in Africa as part of the Great Rift Valley

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        Travelgurrl - indeed you are right, I would hate to see what storm surge looks like while living on the other side of a Dutch retaining wall!

      • travelgurrl profile image

        travelgurrl 6 years ago from San Francisco, CA

        Wow what a beautiful hub! I've been to only a few of these spots and would love to see the dead sea on one of my trips. Low points on dry land are one thing, but in Holland being below sea level with the sea surrounding you is quite amazing when you think about it.

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        DzyMsLizzy - I share a similar experience with you academically in regards to geology. It's remained a favorite hobby and interest of mine since college and places such as these bring it out.

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        leahlefler - I hope to visit a couple more of these interesting places. Like you, I enjoyed the Salton Sea and Death Valley. Thank you for your interest.

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        Marellen - Thank you! I'm happy to hear you enjoyed reading this hub.

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        Brianlokker - Thanks again for visiting my hubpages and your favorable comments. I too was surprised to learn that Argentina had the western hemisphere's low point. I always thought it was Death Valley.

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        Stephanie - Thank you for reading and your comments. I think many don't realize the Salton Sea is below sea level, but in Death Vly there are many reminders.

      • jvhirniak profile image

        jvhirniak 6 years ago

        hush4444 - These places are fascinating to me, both geologically and ecologically.

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

        Oh, very interesting, indeed! I remember the "horst and graben" phenomenon from geology class. Geology is very interesting, and the only thing that kept me out of it on a professional level is the math involved! I couldn't even get through elementary algebra! :-(

        This was a very interesting, and well-presented read. Voted up and shared.

      • leahlefler profile image

        Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

        Fascinating hub! I've been to the Salton Sea and to Death Valley - both in the winter! I love looking at pictures of far away places, and maybe I'll get to visit the Caspian Sea or Lake Eyre one of these days!

      • profile image

        marellen 6 years ago

        Great hub and so interesting.

      • brianlokker profile image

        Brian Lokker 6 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

        This is a fascinating hub. I wasn't previously familiar with a number of these places, such as those in South America and some in Africa, and I didn't remember that the Caspian Sea is below sea level. You've put together a great survey of these places, with very interesting descriptions and background on their origins.

      • Stephanie Henkel profile image

        Stephanie Henkel 6 years ago from USA

        This is such an interesting topic for an article! I remember how impressed I was when visiting Death Valley to see the marker high on the hill denoting sea level. Badwater's cracked salt flats are almost eerie. We camped at Salton Sea a few years ago- it's quite an interesting place though I didn't realize at the time that it was below sea level. Enjoyed your very informative article and photographs! Voted up!

      • hush4444 profile image

        hush4444 6 years ago from Hawaii

        What an interesting hub! As a child, I went on many a car trip through Death Valley and I never really understood how it could be so far below sea level. You've explained these geographic phenomena very well.


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