Below Sea Level: 10 of the Lowest Points in the World - WanderWisdom - Travel
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Below Sea Level: 10 of the Lowest Points in the World

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I love history, traveling, and researching various places around the world.

Did you know the Dead Sea is well over 1,000 below sea level?

Did you know the Dead Sea is well over 1,000 below sea level?

Why Are Some Places Below Sea Level?

It may sound counterintuitive, but our planet has a number of dry patches of land which occur below 0 feet—or mean sea level. The origins of these areas, 10 of which are 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 rent apart, causing the ground to 'drop' and resulting in a graben (a depression in a planet's crust bounded by faults on at least two sides).

The second is merely the drying of a 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.

10 of the Lowest Points on Earth

LocationFeet Below Sea LevelMeters Below Sea Level

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

1,388 and 702

423 and 214

2. Lake Assal, Djibouti

509

155

3. Turpan Depression, China

505

154

4. Qattara Depression, Egypt

436

133

5. Caspian Depression, Kazakhstan

433

132

6. Laguna del Carbon

344

105

7. Death Valley, CA, USA

282

86

8. Salton Sea, CA, USA

234

71

9. Lake Eyre, Australia

49

15

10. Lammefjord, Denmark and Zuidplaspolder, Netherlands

23

7

Zuidplaspolder, Netherlands.

Zuidplaspolder, Netherlands.

10. Lammefjord, Denmark and Zuidplaspolder, Netherlands

Western Europe’s two lowest points are split between two areas in Denmark and the Netherlands, each 23 feet (7 meters) below sea level. 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 in the 13th century. The land was drained and a wall was built up around it to protect it from the sea, not unlike the natural levees that formed in the lower Mississippi River near New Orleans that left some areas around the Crescent City 5 to 7 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.

9. Lake Eyre, Australia

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

Pelicans at the Salton Sea, California.

Pelicans at the Salton Sea, California.

8. 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—but more about that later!).

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 (fishing for Tilapia is popular, as it's the only species that can survive the levels of salinity here at 5.0% w/v.), but the Salton Sea is threatened by increasing levels of salinity and fertilizer runoff from the Imperial Valley. Still, it remains an important stop for migratory birds on the North American flyway.

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

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

7. Death Valley, California, USA

This is the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America. The ancient lakebed that 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. Unsurprisingly, it is not often visited in the summer, because of the extreme heat.

6. Laguna del Carbon, Argentina

Within Argentina are all of the significant areas in South America that are below sea level: Laguna del Carbon, Bajo del Gualicho, Salina Grande, and Salina Chica. 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.

Nearby Areas Below Sea Level:

  • Bajo del Gualicho, in Rio Negro Province, is 236 feet (72 meters) below sea level.
  • Best known for its wildlife, the Valdes Peninsula in Chubut Province is home to the barren Salina Grande and Salina Chica, which share a low elevation of 138 feet (42 meters) below sea level.
Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan.

Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan.

5. Caspian Depression, Kazakstan

The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water in the world, and its shore is 92 feet (28 meters) below sea level. 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 Caspian Depression encompasses the northern part of the Caspian sea. The deepest point of this huge depression lies in a karst trench on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan. The low point, Karigiye, is 433 feet (132 meters) below sea level.

Siwa Oasis, Qattara Depression, Egypt.

Siwa Oasis, Qattara Depression, Egypt.

4. Qattara Depression, Egypt

Africa is home to the largest number of places below sea level in the world, and North Africa 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; it averages close to 200 feet (70 meters) below sea level. 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, (-180 feet/-55 meters),
  • Sabkhat Ghuzayyil, Libya (-154 feet/-47 meters),
  • Chott Melrhir, Algeria (-131 feet/-40 meters), and
  • Shatt al Gharsah, Tunisia (-56 feet/-17 meters).
Bezeklik, Turpan Depression, China.

Bezeklik, Turpan Depression, China.

3. Turpan Depression, China

This trough is the Earth’s third-lowest point, reaching a depth of 505 feet (154 meters) below sea level. 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 2,000 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.

2. 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 (125 meters) below sea level. 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

1. Dead Sea, Israel

The Dead Sea is the world’s lowest point of land at 1,388 feet (423 meters) below sea level, 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.

The Sea of Galilee, Jordan

Connected by the Jordan River 50 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 (214 meters) below sea level, 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.

© 2012 jvhirniak

Comments

Barry O. on March 09, 2020:

I wonder... how much would sea level lower IF there was a way to put the water back into the dry lake beds and seas??

The water went some where; I'm guessing it evaporated, and then came down in other areas as rain...

jvhirniak (author) on October 17, 2015:

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

Alan from San Diego on October 15, 2015:

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 (author) on June 03, 2014:

Easy Exercise - thank you! Always appreciate nice comments!

Kelly A Burnett from United States on June 02, 2014:

jvhirniak,

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

jvhirniak (author) on October 09, 2013:

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

idigwebsites from United States on October 04, 2013:

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 from Cindee's Land on August 04, 2012:

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

jvhirniak (author) on July 20, 2012:

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 (author) on July 20, 2012:

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

TheHoleStory from Parsons, West Virginia on July 19, 2012:

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.

jvhirniak (author) on April 10, 2012:

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

Eep63 from Calgary, AB on April 09, 2012:

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

jvhirniak (author) on February 09, 2012:

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

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on February 04, 2012:

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 (author) on February 04, 2012:

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 from Dorking, Surrey, United Kingdom on February 03, 2012:

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

jvhirniak (author) on February 02, 2012:

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 from San Francisco, CA on February 02, 2012:

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 (author) on February 02, 2012:

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 (author) on February 02, 2012:

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 (author) on February 02, 2012:

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

jvhirniak (author) on February 02, 2012:

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 (author) on February 02, 2012:

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 (author) on February 02, 2012:

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

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on February 01, 2012:

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.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on February 01, 2012:

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!

marellen on February 01, 2012:

Great hub and so interesting.

Brian Lokker from Bethesda, Maryland on February 01, 2012:

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 from USA on February 01, 2012:

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 from Hawaii on February 01, 2012:

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.