Geography of Iran
|Geography of Iran|
1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi)
0.73 % water
|Coastline||2,440 km (1,520 mi)|
|Borders||Total land borders:
5,440 km (3,380 mi)
936 km (582 mi)
35 km (22 mi)
432 km (268 mi)
Azerbaijan (Nakhchivan exclave):
179 km (111 mi)
1,458 km (906 mi)
909 km (565 mi)
499 km (310 mi)
992 km (616 mi)
|Highest point||Kuh-e Damavand (Mount Damavand)
5,610 m (18,406 ft)
|Lowest point||Caspian Sea
−28 m (−91.9 ft)
|Largest lake||Lake Urmia|
Geographically, Iran is located in West Asia and borders the Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, and Caspian Sea. Its mountains have helped to shape both the political and the economic history of the country for several centuries. The mountains enclose several broad basins, or plateaus, on which major agricultural and urban settlements are located. Until the 20th century, when major highways and railroads were constructed through the mountains to connect the population centers, these basins tended to be relatively isolated from one another.
Typically, one major town dominated each basin, and there were complex economic relationships between the town and the hundreds of villages that surrounded it. In the higher elevations of the mountains rimming the basins, tribally organized groups practiced transhumance, moving with their herds of sheep and goats between traditionally established summer and winter pastures. There are no major river systems in the country, and historically transportation was by means of caravans that followed routes traversing gaps and passes in the mountains. The mountains also impeded easy access to the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea.
With an area of 1,648,000 square kilometres (636,000 sq mi), Iran ranks eighteenth in size among the countries of the world.
Iran shares its northern borders with three post-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. These borders extend for more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi), including nearly 650 kilometres (400 mi) of water along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Iran's western borders are with Turkey in the north and Iraq in the south, terminating at the Shatt al-Arab, which Iranians call the Arvand Rud.
The Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman littorals form the entire 1,770 kilometres (1,100 mi) southern border. To the east lie Afghanistan on the north and Pakistan on the south. Iran's diagonal distance from Azerbaijan in the northwest to Sistan and Baluchestan Province in the southeast is approximately 2,333 kilometres (1,450 mi).
The topography of Iran consists of rugged, mountainous rims surrounding high interior basins. The main mountain chain is the Zagros Mountains, a series of parallel ridges interspersed with plains that bisect the country from northwest to southeast. Many peaks in the Zagros exceed 3,000 metres (9,843 ft) above sea level, and in the south-central region of the country there are at least five peaks that are over 4,000 metres (13,123 ft).
As the Zagros continue into southeastern Iran, the average elevation of the peaks declines dramatically to under 1,500 metres (4,921 ft). Rimming the Caspian Sea littoral is another chain of mountains, the narrow but high Alborz Mountains. Volcanic Mount Damavand, 5,610 metres (18,406 ft), located in the center of the Alborz, is not only the country's highest peak but also the highest mountain on the Eurasian landmass west of the Hindu Kush.
The center of Iran consists of several closed basins that collectively are referred to as the Central Plateau. The average elevation of this plateau is about 900 metres (2,953 ft), but several of the mountains that tower over the plateau exceed 3,000 metres (9,843 ft). The eastern part of the plateau is covered by two salt deserts, the Dasht-e Kavir (Great Salt Desert) and the Dasht-e Lut. Except for some scattered oases, these deserts are uninhabited.
Iran has only two expanses of lowlands: the Khuzestan Plain in the southwest and the Caspian Sea coastal plain in the north. The former is a roughly triangular-shaped extension of the Mesopotamia plain and averages about 160 kilometres (99 mi) in width. It extends for about 120 kilometres (75 mi) inland, barely rising a few meters above sea level, then meets abruptly with the first foothills of the Zagros. Much of the Khuzestan plain is covered with marshes.
The Caspian plain is both longer and narrower. It extends for some 640 kilometres (400 mi) along the Caspian shore, but its widest point is less than 50 kilometres (31 mi), while at some places less than 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) separate the shore from the Alborz foothills. The Persian Gulf coast south of Khuzestan and the Gulf of Oman coast have no real plains because the Zagros in these areas come right down to the shore.
There are no major rivers in the country. Of the small rivers and streams, the only one that is navigable is the 830 kilometres (520 mi)-long Karun, which shallow-draft boats can negotiate from Khorramshahr to Ahvaz, a distance of about 180 kilometres (110 mi). Other major rivers include the Karkheh, spanning 700 kilometres (430 mi) and joining the Tigris; and the Zayandeh River, which is 300 kilometres (190 mi) long. Several other permanent rivers and streams also drain into the Persian Gulf, while a number of small rivers that originate in the northwestern Zagros or Alborz drain into the Caspian Sea.
On the Central Plateau, numerous rivers—most of which have dry beds for the greater part of the year—form from snow melting in the mountains during the spring and flow through permanent channels, draining eventually into salt lakes that also tend to dry up during the summer months. There is a permanent salt lake, Lake Urmia (the traditional name, also cited as Lake Urmiyeh, to which it has reverted after being called Lake Rezaiyeh under Mohammad Reza Shah), in the northwest, whose brine content is too high to support fish or most other forms of aquatic life. There are also several connected salt lakes along the Iran-Afghanistan border in the province of Baluchestan va Sistan.
Iran has a variable climate. In the northwest, winters are cold with heavy snowfall and subfreezing temperatures during December and January. Spring and fall are relatively mild, while summers are dry and hot. In the south, winters are mild and the summers are very hot, having average daily temperatures in July exceeding 38 °C (100.4 °F). On the Khuzestan Plain, summer heat is accompanied by high humidity.
In general, Iran has an arid climate in which most of the relatively scant annual precipitation falls from October through April. In most of the country, yearly precipitation averages 250 millimetres (9.8 in) or less. The major exceptions are the higher mountain valleys of the Zagros and the Caspian coastal plain, where precipitation averages at least 500 millimetres (19.7 in) annually. In the western part of the Caspian, rainfall exceeds 1,000 millimetres (39.4 in) annually and is distributed relatively evenly throughout the year. This contrasts with some basins of the Central Plateau that receive ten centimeters or less of precipitation annually.
Caspian Mild and Wet
Mediterranean with Spring Rains
Very Cold Mountains
Hot Dry Desert
Hot Coastal Dry
Flora and fauna
7% of the country is forested. The most extensive growths are found on the mountain slopes rising from the Caspian Sea, with stands of oak, ash, elm, cypress, and other valuable trees. On the plateau proper, areas of scrub oak appear on the best-watered mountain slopes, and villagers cultivate orchards and grow the plane tree, poplar, willow, walnut, beech, maple, and mulberry. Wild plants and shrubs spring from the barren land in the spring and afford pasturage, but the summer sun burns them away. According to FAO reports, the major types of forests that exist in Iran and their respective areas are:
- Caspian forests of the northern districts – 19,000 km2 (7,300 sq mi)
- Limestone mountainous forests in the northeastern districts (Juniperus forests – 13,000 km2 (5,000 sq mi)
- Pistachio forests in the eastern, southern and southeastern districts – 26,000 km2 (10,000 sq mi)
- Oak forests in the central and western districts – 35,000 km2 (14,000 sq mi)
- Shrubs of the Kavir (desert) districts in the central and northeastern part of the country – 10,000 km2 (3,900 sq mi)
- Sub-tropical forests of the southern coast, like the Hara forests – 5,000 km2 (1,900 sq mi)
Wildlife of Iran is diverse and composed of several animal species including bears, gazelles, wild pigs, wolves, jackals, panthers, Eurasian lynx, and foxes. Domestic animals include, sheep, goats, cattle, horses, water buffalo, donkeys, and camels. The pheasant, partridge, stork, eagles and falcon are also native to Iran.
As of 2001, 20 of Iran's mammal species and 14 bird species are endangered. Among them are the Baluchistan bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus), a subspecies of Asian Black Bear, Persian fallow deer, Siberian Crane, hawksbill turtle, green turtle, Oxus cobra, Latifi's viper, dugong and dolphins. The Asiatic Cheetah is a critically endangered species which extinct elsewhere and now can only be found in Iran.
Iran lost all its Asiatic Lions and Caspian Tigers by the earlier part of the 20th century. The Syrian wild ass has become extinct. Bears in the mountains, wild sheep and goats, gazelles, wild asses, wild pigs, panthers, and foxes abound. Domestic animals include sheep, goats, cattle, horses, water buffalo, donkeys, and camels. The pheasant, partridge, stork, and falcon are native to Iran.
The Persian leopard is said to be the largest of all the subspecies of leopards in the world. The main range of this species in Iran closely overlaps with that of Bezoar Ibex. Hence, it is found throughout Alborz and Zagros mountain ranges, as well as smaller ranges within the Iranian plateau. Leopard population is very sparse, due to loss of habitat, loss of natural prey, and population fragmentation. Apart from Bezoar Ibex, wild sheep, boar, deer (either Maral red deer or roe deer), and domestic animals constitute leopards' diet in Iran.
Ecosystem and biosphere
|Ramsar sites (23/06/75)||Area (km²)|
|Anzali Wetland Complex, Gilan Province||150|
|Arjan Meadow, Fars Province||22|
|Lake Gori, East Azerbaijan Province||1.2|
|Lake Kobi, West Azerbaijan Province||12|
|Lake Parishan, Fars Province||40|
|Miankaleh Peninsula, Gorgan Bay, Lapoo-Zaghmarz Ab-bandan Mazandaran Province||1000|
Natural hazards: periodic droughts, floods; dust storms, sandstorms; earthquakes along western border and in the northeast
Environment - current issues: air pollution, especially in urban areas, from vehicle emissions, refinery operations, and industrial effluents; deforestation; overgrazing; desertification; oil pollution in the Persian Gulf; wetland losses from drought; soil degradation (salination); inadequate supplies of potable water in some areas; urbanization.
Resources and land use
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, sulfur
arable land: 10%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 27%
forests and woodlands: 13%
other: 49% (1998 est.)
94,000 km2 (36,000 sq mi) (1993 est.)
Area and boundaries
total: 1,648,000 km2 (636,000 sq mi)
land: 1,636,000 km2 (632,000 sq mi)
water: 12,000 km2 (4,600 sq mi)
total: 5,440 kilometres (3,380 mi)
border countries: Afghanistan 936 kilometres (582 mi), Armenia 35 kilometres (22 mi), Azerbaijan-proper 432 kilometres (268 mi), Azerbaijan-Nakhchivan exclave 179 kilometres (111 mi), Iraq 1,458 kilometres (906 mi), Pakistan 909 kilometres (565 mi), Turkey 499 kilometres (310 mi), Turkmenistan 992 kilometres (616 mi)
Coastline: 2,440 kilometres (1,520 mi)
note: Iran also borders the Caspian Sea, for 740 kilometres (460 mi)
contiguous zone: 24 nmi (44.4 km; 27.6 mi)
continental shelf: natural prolongation
exclusive economic zone: bilateral agreements, or median lines in the Persian Gulf
territorial sea: 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi)
International territorial disputes
Iran is currently engaged in international territorial disputes with several neighbouring countries.
The country protests Afghanistan's limiting flow of dammed tributaries to the Helmand River in periods of drought. The lack of a maritime boundary in the Persian Gulf with Iraq also prompts jurisdictional disputes beyond the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab. Iran and the United Arab Emirates have a territorial dispute over the Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa islands, which are administered by Iran. Iran currently insists on dividing the Caspian Sea resources equally among the five littoral states, after the Russian-backed former soviet breakaway republics refused to respect the 50-50 agreements between Iran & the Soviet Union (despite their international obligation). Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan & Turkmenistan continue to claim territorial waters thus regarding the Caspian Sea as open international body of water, dismissing its geographically lake nature.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Geography of Iran.|
- International rankings of Iran
- Provinces of Iran
- Caspian Sea
- Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests
- Strait of Hormuz
- Elburz Range forest steppe
- Ramsar, Mazandaran: Highest natural radioactivity in the world
- Earthquakes in Iran
- List of caves in Iran
- FAO reports
- "Ramsar Information Sheet: Anzali Wetlands Complex", accessed 28 November 2008
- "Ramsar Information Sheet: Lake Lake Parishan and Dashte-Arjan", accessed 1 December 2008
- "Ramsar Information Sheet: Lake Gori", accessed 1 December 2008
- "Ramsar Information Sheet: Lake Kobi", accessed 1 December 2008
- "Ramsar Information Sheet: Miankaleh Peninsula, Gorgan Bay and Lapoo-Zaghmarz Ab-bandans", accessed 28 November 2008
- CSIS: The US, Israel, the Arab States and a Nuclear Iran. Retrieved January 27, 2010.
- CIA - The World Factbook - Iran
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.
- Geography of Persia, Encyclopædia Iranica:
- Iran in Maps - BBC (population, land, infrastructure)
- Iran Geography
- Persia (Iran), Afghanistan and Baluchistan is a map from 1897