At present, Israel has the longest salt cave in the world. It is named the Malcham Salt Cave, located in Mount Sodom, the southern corner of the Dead Sea.
In March 2019, cave explorers from Israel and Europe completed the cave’s measurements, which were revealed to be 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) long. It means that Israel reclaimed the title for the world’s longest salt cave.
The Malcham Salt Cave (or simply Malcham Cave) is one of the 150 or so caves in Mount Sodom.
Thirteen years prior to Israel breaking the new record, Iran previously held the title of having the longest salt cave, the Cave of the Three Nudes, also known as the “3N Cave” or “The Cave of Three Naked Men” (although one could only guess where the name came from). Located in Qeshm Island in Iran, the cave 6.5 kilometers (4 miles).
Israel reclaims the “Cave Crown”
Geology professor and speleologist Amos Frumkin, who is also the director of Hebrew University’s Cave Research Center, first explored the Malcham Salt Cave during the 1980s. Using basic tools to measure the cave (including unspooling string behind the cavers), they estimated that the cave stretched about five kilometers long.
In 2006, a group of Iranian and European cave explorers announced that they successfully measured Iran’s Cave of the Three Nudes, which measured 6.5 kilometers in length. This brought the world record for the Iranians for having the world’s longest salt cave.
That is until Frumkin and his team of Israeli and European cavers took a second measurement of the Malcham Salt Cave. It was found to be twice as long as the initial measurement that Frumkin took in the 1980s. This time around, the tools used in cave mapping had become technologically advanced, which helped provide more accurate results.
Downplaying political factors
Cavers who successfully mapped Malcham Salt Cave claimed that politics had nothing to do with Israel snatching the record from Iran for the world’s longest salt cave. According to Yoav Negev, chairman of the Israel Cave Explorers Club, “We know this area is unexplored, and we want to explore it. The fact that we broke the record is only for the headline. We don’t want it to impact our relationship with Iranian cavers. We see it as good motivation for both countries.”
Negev added that the Israeli and Iranian cavers even maintained frequent communication via Facebook and met at international caving conferences.
The formation of the Malcham Salt Cave
The Malcham Salt Cave was over thousands of years by winter floodwater seeping into the cap rock’s cracks, a hard or solid rock layer covering Mount Sodom. The floodwater is absorbed into the salt rock, which dissolves it, carving out an underground river that flows through a block of salt to the Dead Sea. Then the water drains, leaving an empty cave.
Salt caves are unique and dynamic caves that form under special conditions, particularly in desert areas with significant numbers of salt stones formed by evaporating seawater and sediment.
The Malcham Salt Cave is estimated to be around 7,000 years old, making it a virtual infant. Salt caves form quickly when compared to limestone caves, which took millions of years to form. The stalactites in limestone caves grow slowly – many of them are at least a hundred years old. On the other hand, the stalactites in salt caves grow comparatively quickly, as much as half a meter (1.5 feet) every year.