The effect of climate change on the jordan river


The Jordan River is a river located in Southwest Asia which drains its water into the Dead Sea. The Jordan River is said to be one of the most sacred rivers in the world. It measures two hundred and fifty one kilometers long. The tributaries of the Jordan River are: the Hasbani which originates from Lebanon, the Banias which originates from a spring at Banias at the Mount Hermon’s foot, the Dan which flows from the foot of Mount Hermon and lastly the Lyon which originates from Lebanon. The Jordan River rapidly drops in a seventy five Kilometer run to Lake Hula, which is below the sea level in the Sea of Galilee. When exiting the Lake, the Jordan River drops much more in about twenty five Kilometer. The last section of the river has a gentle gradient, hence making it meanders before it flows to the Dead Sea

According to IPPCC Climate change is a change in climatic state that is characterized by changes in the mean or variability of climatic properties and its persistence for an extended duration of time. Climatic change also refers to changes in climatic conditions in certain duration of time, as a result of natural variability or human activity.

The Jordan River has been flowing freely for millions of years; its name has even been immortalized in the Hebrew bible. Currently large section of this storied river have been reduced to a trickle, the water level has become so low to extend that grass fires can even spread freely across the river valley between Jordan and Israel, the quality of water has reduced, the ecosystem of the Jordan River is slowly dying away and lastly navigating river Jordan has almost become impossible. All these factors have been attributed to the devastating impacts of the Climate change on the Jordan River.

This paper is going to look at the impact of the climatic changes to the Jordan River.

The effect of climate change on the Jordan River

Destruction of the river’s ecosystem

The devastating impacts of climatic change on the Jordan River ecosystem have been observed in many species of flora and fauna. These changes include pole ward and upward movements of forbs, plants, birds and insects that are found in the Jordan River. Aquatic scholars predicts that future changes in climate will lead to fragmentation of habitats this will cause extinction of some species of flora and fauna. Temperature and hydrological changes occurring as result of climatic change have left a negative impact on the aquatic ecosystem in the Jordan River basin, with some species of fish such as salmonid being sensitive to temperature they are likely to vanish. Climatic changes have generated some ecological response all in the tributaries of the Jordan River. Scientist have argued that temperature increase in the river has rendered 1.5% to 3.9% of current trout habitat unsuitable and the trend is likely to increase in future if no action is taken. Extreme weather patterns such have floods and Low River discharge as a result of climate change also affects the incubating eggs in the river beds. Eggs of spawning and fall fish including Coho, Chinook, bull trout and Sockeye Salmon have suffered a higher levels of mortality because of the extreme weather patterns. Higher temperature in the Jordan River has accelerated development of embryos in the river; this has resulted into premature of fly (Beamish et al 1999 p11).

The Jordan River ecosystem comprises more than forty percent of the earth surface, and it is one of the main reservoirs for some species. Climate changes has modified to a significant extend the biodiversity in the Jordan River ecosystem. According to Danavaro et al, temperature shift of 0.08 – 0.3°C is sufficient enough to cause significant changes in the Fauna and Flora found in rivers and oceans. The Fauna and Flora in the Jordan rivers have undergone significant changes while some are even extinct. According to the figures released by the Israeli department of fisheries, in 1942 there were one hundred and thirty two species of flora and fauna that were living in the River Jordan, however with the changes in the climatic conditions, the number have dropped to forty three species. These facts, shows that the climatic changes have led to the reduction of the Species of flora and fauna found in the Jordan River of hope (Beamish et al1999 pp 12 -28)

Reduced quality of water in the river

Climate change has also reduced the quality of water in the Jordan River. According to a study done by IPCC, the nitrate load in the Jordan River has increase by over thirty six percent due to the devastating effects of climate change which has resulted into the decrease in the river discharge and the increase in water temperature.   Irene et al collected data from 1991 and 2006, in which they found out that the amount of the load of nitrate found in the river was highly dependence on the temperature. During low discharge the amount of nitrate load was higher than during high discharge. The Increase in nitrates in the river has also increased the conditions that favor autrophication which has adversely affected the quality of water in the river (International Panel on Climate change 2004).
The drought conditions have exacerbated the downstream sedimentation and soil erosion. This increases the river load hence resulting in reduction of the river velocity. With reduced velocity the sediments settles in the river bed, hence blocking the river channel. The amount of sediments load entering the Jordan River has also increased due to the extreme bushfire or weather patterns both of which have been accelerated with the changes in climatic conditions (Semmler et al 2006 p 21)
The drop in the mean precipitation and the increase in temperature in the Jordan River catchments area have been estimated to be ten percent and between 1 -3.7 ºC respectively. This has resulted into reduction in the Jordan River discharge by more than twenty five percent and environmentalist predicts that the discharge is likely to fall further by thirteen percent in the next five years. Reduction of the river discharge jeopardizes the stable water level in the river. This also increases the retention time and increases the rate of alkalizations of the river. Reduction in the river discharge has also affected the nutrient contents of the river water especially the relative concentration of pollutant in the water and therefore it encourages eutrophication (Semmler et al 2006 p 21)
The increase in water temperature also affects the quality of water in the river because it increases the rate of biological decomposition and the metabolic processes in the water. Acceleration of metabolic processes and biological decomposition lead to extreme quality of water condition such as reduction in Dissolve oxygen (DO) in the river, mass production of algae these has reduced the quality of water in the river (Semmler et al pp 16 -17)
Climate change has also caused a rise in the level of the Dead Sea; this has brought more sea water intrusion into the system of the Jordan River making it salty. Dead Sea being a salty lake has recorded a significant increase in its level of water. During the high tide its water mixes freely with the Jordan River hence contaminating it with salts (Brenda et al 1998 p 24)


Climate changes have impaired navigation in the Jordan River. According to the figures released by the Israeli navigation department, it has become almost impossible to navigate the river due to reduction in the water level and the reduction in the depth of the river due to the soil erosion that occurs as a result of climatic conditions. This has necessitated for changes in the navigation structures for the river. There are periods when the river is navigable while at times it is not. The main tributaries of the Jordan River have also registered the same conditions as the Jordan River. The drop in water level has also had a negative impact in navigation. This is because it has reduced the loading capacity of boats and vessels that are used in the Jordan River.  Many sea transporters agree that a drop by 1cm in the water level reduces the capacity of the vessel by more than 12 percent. This means that with the drop in the water level by more than six centimeters over the last ten years, the vessel capacity  of the river have been reduced by more than nine percent (Strzepek et al 2005 pp 23 -26 )

Reduced river discharge

Increase in temperature has resulted into higher evaporation rate which in turn increases payoff from irrigation. Increase in temperature also reduces the amount of water in the river has water goes into the atmosphere. According to a study that was done in Saudi Arabia, 5° C increase in temperature increases the rate of water loss in rivers by more than ten percent. This has reduced the level of water in the Jordan River. Temperature increase also increases the amount of soil water demand. This makes the farmers to draw more water from the rivers so as to ensure that their crops do not reach the permanent wilting point. With increase in the rate of water withdrawal, the river discharge has also dropped (Glowa 2004 p 4)

The river discharge has also dropped due to reduction in the amount of precipitation that the river is receiving. According to IPCC 2007 report, the amount of precipitation that the Jordan River’s catchment area has been receiving has registered a significant decrease to climate change. In 2007 the amount of rainfall that was received was less by thirty six percent as compared to the amount of rainfall that was received in the same catchment area in 1947. Hydrologist have projected that if no action is taken, this figure is likely to reduce further by more than twenty percent by 2020s (Joel et al1995)

Climate change has increased the demand of water from the Jordan River through socio economic and direct physical effects like changes in human behaviors in terms of water consumption as a response to increase in temperature this in turn has reduced the river discharge. Many scholars agree that during hot weather both human beings and animals consume a lot of water. Climate change has also reduced the amount of rainfall falling in the Jordan River catchment area; this makes more people to adopt irrigation as an alternative to the unreliable rainfall. Agriculture through irrigation is the largest consumer of water from the Jordan River. Climate changes have reinforced the expansion of irrigation system in the river basin as a way of supporting growth in the economy.  According to the figure released by the IPCC in 2007, the number of irrigation schemes in the Jordan River basins has increased by ten percent in the last three years, a fact that is attributed to unreliable rainfall in the area. Expansion of irrigation systems to supplement precipitation is a maladaptive from the perspective of climatic change and it has been primarily driven by the changes in precipitation patterns (Bakun 1990pp 136-152)

Implication for river management

Climate change has caused a lot of challenges for the management of the River Jordan. The following are examples of challenges that the management of the Jordan river are facing as a result of climate change: first it has become no longer feasible to assume that climatic conditions will be the same over a planning duration, this has added another dimension to the already complicated long term planning process in the projects running in the Jordan River. Secondly, simulation of the potential impacts of the changes in climate calls for realistic models of all the process operating or the projects running in the Jordan River.  These models have to represent ecological hydrological, water resources, and geomorphologic systems. The threats caused by the Climate changes are another stimulus to the multidisciplinary development model. Thirdly, the uncertainty about the future of the nature of climatic change favors the adoption of plans that are robust to the changes in the climatic conditions and schemes which are flexible. In this sense, climate changes make it hard for managers to plan there projects and to come up with detailed properties in the Jordan River (Burger et al 2002 p 53).

Increased strain in the River

Climatic change has added more dimension to the supply equation of the Jordan River.  According to a research done by IPCC, climate change has greatly altered water flow timing over the years. Spring flows in the Jordan River is stronger and comes earlier while late summer and summer flows has become weaker. These have imposed a lot of stress and strain on the river, because it has become harder for the riverbed to adapt to the climatic conditions. Abrupt changes in the weather pattern have also left the river bed weaker due to the soil and rock instability. The changes in the timing and the quantity of river discharge have increased the burdens that have been placed in the management of reservoirs in the Jordan River basin. (Burger et al 2002p 53 -59)


Climate change threatens to add more pressure on the Jordan River already under the pressure. The Quality of water in the river has decreased; the river is almost becoming impossible to navigate, the Flora and fauna in the river has also been affected and lastly management of the river has become difficult because it has become hard to predict future changes in the river due to climatic changes.

The writer of this paper is of the opinion that there is need to save the Jordan River from the devastating effects of the climate change or else the river will be no more.


Burger J & Menzel C (2002) Climate Changes scenario & Runoff Hydrology journal pp 53 -59

Bakun D (1990) the Global Climate Change & intensification of coastal upwelling Science 235 pp 136-152

Beamish G & McFarlane A (1999) destruction of the River Ecosystem as a result of Global Warming Macmillan publishers

Brenda E, Dunne T, Reeves H & Agee K (1998) the effects of increase in water temperature in rivers, Idaho University pp 21 -24

Martin P & Osvaldo C (2007) Climate Change Elsevier Publisher pp 14 – 16

Joel B, & Strzepek M (1995) International impacts & Implications of the Climate change

Glowa (2004) Global Change in Hydrological cycle PDF retrieved from on March 31, 2009

International Panel on Climate change (2001) Guidelines for assessing climatic changes& Adoptions pp 14 -19

Strzepek J & McCluskey (2005) examples of Hydroclametic time series analysis on the impacts of global warming in the Jordan River Pretoria University Press pp 23 -26

 Semmler F & Alabashir K (2006) the impact of changes in Climate on the discharge of the Jordan River Natural Hazards & Earth System Sciences Dian publisher pp 51 -55



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