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Lake Urmia

Coordinates: 37°42′N 45°22′E / 37.700°N 45.367°E / 37.700; 45.367
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Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia from space in 1984
Lake Urmia is located in Iran
Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia
Coordinates37°42′N 45°22′E / 37.700°N 45.367°E / 37.700; 45.367
Typesalt (hypersaline) lake
Primary inflowsZarriné-Rūd, Simineh-Rūd, Mahabad River, Gadar River, Barandouz River, Shahar River, Nazlou River, Zola River, Kaftar Ali Chay, Aji Chay, Boyuk Chay, Rudkhaneh-ye Qal'eh Chay, Qobi Chay, Rudkhaneh-ye Mordaq, Leylan River; diversion from the Zab River
Primary outflowsnone: all water entering the lake is lost through evaporation
Basin countriesIran
Max. length140 km (87 mi) [1995]
Max. width55 km (34 mi) [1995]
Surface area2,917 km2 (1,126 sq mi) [2021-april][1]
Average depth6 to 8 m (20 to 26 ft) [1910–2012][2]
Max. depth13 to 15 m (43 to 49 ft) [1910–2012][2]
Water volume5.5 km3 (1.3 cu mi) [2021][1]
Salinity217–235 g L−1 Na–(Mg)–Cl–(SO4) brine [20th c.][3]
8–11% in spring, 26–28% in late autumn[4]
Islands102 [1995] (see list)
Official nameLake Urmia [or Orumiyeh]
Designated23 June 1975
Reference no.38[6]
Diminishing of surface of Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia, NW Iran, September 2015

Lake Urmia[a] is an endorheic salt lake in Iran.[7][8] The lake is located between the provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan in Iran, and west of the southern portion of the Caspian Sea. At its greatest extent, it is the largest lake in the Middle East and Caucasus. It’s the sixth-largest saltwater lake on Earth, with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km2 (2,000 sq mi), a length of 140 km (87 mi), a width of 55 km (34 mi), and a maximum depth of 16 m (52 ft).[9]

Sadly by late 2017, the lake had shrunk to 10% of its former size (and 1/60 of water volume in 1998) due to persistent general drought in Iran, but also the damming of the local rivers that flow into it, and the pumping of groundwater from the surrounding area.[10] This dry spell was broken in 2019 and the lake is now filling up once again, due to both increased rain and water diversion from the Zab River under the Urmia Lake Research Programme.[11]

Lake Urmia, along with its approximately 102 (former) islands, is protected as a national park by the Iranian Department of Environment.

Names and etymologies

People visiting a boat on Lake Urmia
People visiting a boat on Lake Urmia

Richard Nelson Frye suggested an Urartian origin for the name,[12] while T. Burrow connected the origin of the name Urmia to Indo-Iranian urmi- "wave" and urmya- "undulating, wavy".[13] A more likely[citation needed] etymology would be from Neo-Aramaic Assyrian-Chaldean spoken by the shrinking number of the ancient Christian population of the nearby city of Urmia, consisting of ur meaning "city," and mia meaning "water." Together, the "water city", what Urmia city is: a city on the waters of the eponymous lake. The name could also derive from the combination of the Assyrian Aramaic words Ur (ܐܘܪ; a common name for cities around Mesopotamia, meaning "city") and Mia (Syriac: ܡܝܐ, lit.'water'), "City of Water" referring to the city nearby.[14][original research?]

Locally, the lake is referred to in Persian as Daryâče-ye Orumiye (دریاچهٔ ارومیه), in Azerbaijani as Urmu gölü (اۇرمۇ گؤلۆ). The traditional Armenian name is Kaputan tsov (Կապուտան ծով), literally "blue sea". Residents of Shahi Island refer to the lake in Azerbaijani as Daryā (دریا, meaning "Sea").[15][16][17]

Its Old Persian name was Chichast, meaning "glittering", a reference to the glittering mineral particles suspended in the water of the lake and found along its shores.[citation needed] The Greeks called it Spauta (Σπαῦτα), and also it was probably the same as the Μαρτιανὴ λίμνη of Ptolemy.[18]

Archaeology and history


Yanik Tepe is a prehistoric site on the east shore of Lake Urmia, that has been excavated in the 1950s and 1960s by C. A. Burney.[19] This area has been settled as far back as 6000 BC. There's a large group of sites south of Lake Urmia that have been excavated. They include Dalma Tepe, Teppe Hasanlu, and Geoy Tepe. Hajji Firuz Tepe may have been the earliest of these sites.

Se Girdan kurgans are located on the south shore of Lake Urmia. Some of them were excavated in 1968 and 1970 by O. Muscarella. They have now been redated to the second half of the 4th millennium, although originally they were thought to be much younger.[20]

One of the early mentions of Lake Urmia is from Assyrian records of the 9th century BCE. There, in the records from the reign of Shalmaneser III (858–824 BCE), two names are mentioned in the area of Lake Urmia: Parsuwaš (i.e. the Persians) and Matai (i.e. the Mitanni). It is not completely clear whether these referred to places or tribes, or what their relationship was to the subsequent list of personal names and "kings". But the Matai were Medes and linguistically the name Parsuwaš matches the Old Persian word pārsa, an Achaemenid ethnolinguistic designation.[21]

In the last five hundred years the area around Lake Urmia has been home to Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Persians, Assyrians,[22] and Armenians.[23] The Assyrian of Urmia they speak Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialects and are religiously diverse, adhering to the East Syriac churches (mostly to the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church),[24] and Protestantism.[25]



The main cations in the lake water include Na+, K+, Ca2+, Li+ and Mg2+, while Cl, SO2−
are the main anions. The Na+ and Cl concentration is roughly four times the concentration of natural seawater.

The lake is divided into north and south, separated by the Urmia Lake Bridge and its associated causeway, which was completed in 2008. The bridge provides only a 1.5-kilometre (0.93 mi) gap in the embankment, allowing little exchange of water between the two sections. Due to drought and increased demands for agricultural water in the lake's basin, the salinity of the lake has risen to more than 300 g/L during recent years, and large areas of the lake bed have been desiccated.[26]




On holidays people come to see Lake Urmia around the "Shahid Kalantari" highway that still has water. The 15 km highway was constructed by drying 85% of the boundary between the western and eastern sides of the lake. Construction of the highway has disconnected the northern and southern halves of the lake and has made natural and fundamental changes in the hydrodynamic and ecological characteristics of the lake region.

Modern ecology


Based on the latest checklists of biodiversity at Lake Urmia in 2014 and 2016, it is home to 62 species of archaebacteria and bacteria, 42 species of microfungi, 20 species of phytoplankton, 311 species of plants, five species of mollusca, 226 species of birds, 27 species of amphibians and reptiles and 24 species of mammals (47 fossils have been recorded in the area).[28][29]

Lake Urmia is an internationally registered protected area as both a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve[27] and a Ramsar site.[30] The Iranian Department of Environment has designated most of the lake as a national park.[31]

A recent drought has significantly decreased the annual amount of water the lake receives. This in turn has increased the salinity of the lake's water, reducing its viability as home to thousands of migratory birds, including flamingo populations. The salinity has particularly increased in the half of the lake north of the Urmia Lake Bridge.

By virtue of its high salinity, the lake no longer sustains any fish species. Nonetheless, Urmia Lake is considered a significant natural habitat of Artemia, which serve as food source for the migratory birds such as flamingos.[32] In early 2013, the then-head of the Iranian Artemia Research Center was quoted that Artemia urmiana had gone extinct due to the drastic increases in salinity. However this assessment has been contradicted,[33] and another population of this species has recently been discovered in the Koyashskoye Salt Lake at the Crimean Peninsula.[34]

Falling level and increasing salinity


The lake is a major barrier between Urmia and Tabriz, two of the most important cities in the provinces of West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan. A project to build a highway across the lake was initiated in the 1970s but was abandoned after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, leaving a 15 km (9.3 mi) causeway with an unbridged gap. The project was revived in the early 2000s, and was completed in November 2008 with the opening of the 1.5 km (0.93 mi) Urmia Lake Bridge across the remaining gap.[35] The highly saline environment is already heavily rusting the steel on the bridge despite anti-corrosion treatment. Experts have warned that the construction of the causeway and bridge, together with a series of ecological factors, will eventually lead to the drying up of the lake, turning it into a salt marsh, which will adversely affect the climate of the region.

Bridge construction over Lake Urmia in 2005

Lake Urmia has been shrinking for a long time, with an annual evaporation rate of 0.6 to 1 m (24 to 39 in). Although measures are now being taken to reverse the trend,[36] the lake has shrunk by 60% and could disappear entirely.[36] Only 5% of the lake's water remains.[37]

On 2 August 2012, Muhammad-Javad Muhammadizadeh, the head of Iran's Environment Protection Organization, announced that Armenia had agreed to transfer water to counter the critical fall in Lake Urmia's water level, remarking that "hot weather and a lack of precipitation have brought the lake to its lowest water levels ever recorded". He added that recovery plans for the lake included the transfer of water from Eastern Azerbaijan Province. Previously, Iranian authorities had announced a plan to transfer water from the Aras River, which borders Iran and Azerbaijan, but the 950-billion-toman plan was abandoned due to Azerbaijan's objections.[38]

Satellite imagery from 1984 to 2018, revealing Lake Urmia's diminishing surface area

In July 2014, Iran President Hassan Rouhani approved plans for a 14 trillion rial program (over $500 million) in the first year of a recovery plan. The money was supposed to be used for water management, reducing farmers' water use, and environmental restoration. Several months earlier, in March 2014, Iran's Department of Environment and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) issued a plan to save the lake and the nearby wetland, which called for spending $225 million in the first year and $1.3 billion overall for restoration.[39]

Starting in 2016, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Urmia Lake Restoration Program (ULRP) signed up to a project funded by the Government of Japan entitled "An Integrated Programme for Sustainable Water Resources Management in the Lake Urmia Basin" to support ULRP in its goal to restore Lake Urmia. The project set out a multi-disciplinary framework covering several key interrelated areas and aims to have five outputs: 1. An advanced water accounting (WA) system for the entire Lake Urmia basin; 2. A drought management system based on risk/vulnerability assessment and preparedness response for the basin; 3. A socio-economic livelihood programme with viable and sustainable alternatives to current agricultural activities upstream of the lake to reduce water consumption significantly while maintaining the income and livelihood of affected communities; 4. An integrated watershed management (WM) programme; A capacity development programme to strengthen stakeholders at different levels.

The Silveh Dam in Piranshahr County should be complete in 2015. Through a tunnel and canals it will transfer up to 121,700,000 m3 (98,700 acre⋅ft) of water annually from the Lavin River in the Little Zab basin to Lake Urmia basin.[40][41]

In 2015, president Hassan Rouhani's cabinet approved $660 million for improving irrigation systems, and steps to combat desertification.[10]

In September 2018, A working group tasked with reviving Lake Urmia has started to grow two types of plants to save the region from salt particles. The two plants are Nitraria or Karadagh and Tamarix or Shoorgaz, which are planted on the land of Jabal Kandi village in Urmia County, to slow down the wind that brings with itself the salt particles.[42]

Environmental protests


The prospect that Lake Urmia might dry up entirely has drawn protests in Iran and abroad, directed at both the regional and national governments. Protests flared in late August 2011 after the Iranian parliament voted not to provide funds to channel water from the Aras River to raise the lake level.[43][44] Apparently, parliament proposed instead to relocate people living around Urmia Lake.[44]

More than 30 activists were detained on 24 August 2011 during an iftar meal.[44] In the absence of a right to protest publicly in Iran, protesters have incorporated their messages into chants at football matches.[43][45] On 25 August, several soccer fans were detained before and after the Tabriz derby match between Tractor Sazi F.C. and Shahrdari Tabriz F.C. for shouting slogans in favor of protecting the lake, including "Urmia Lake is dying, the Majlis [parliament] orders its execution".[43][44][46][47]

Further demonstrations took place in the streets of Tabriz and Urmia on 27 August and 3 September 2011.[43][45][48] Amateur video from these events showed riot police on motorcycles attacking apparently peaceful protesters.[45][49] According to the governor of West Azerbaijan, at least 60 supporters of the lake were arrested in Urmia, and dozens in Tabriz, because they had not applied for a permit to organize a demonstration.[50]

The effect of climate change on the lake, has been extensively covered by an Iranian photojournalist Solmaz Daryani.[51][52][53][54][55]



Lake Urmia had approximately 102 islands.[56] Shahi Island was historically the lake's largest. However, it became a peninsula connected to the eastern shore when the lake level dropped.[3][57]

Shahi Island is the burial place of both Hulagu Khan (one of Genghis Khan's grandsons) and of Hulagu's son Abaqa. Both khans were buried in a castle above 1,000-foot (300 m) cliffs along the shore of the island.[58]

Basin rivers


Lake Urmia is fed by 13 permanent rivers and many small springs, as well as rainfall directly into the lake.[3] Nearly half the inflow comes from the Zarrineh River and Simineh River.[3] There is no outflow from the lake so water is only lost through evaporation.[3]


Lake Urmia was the setting of the Iranian film The White Meadows (2009).[citation needed]

Urmia Lake Research Programme


Urmia Lake Restoration Program (ULRP) by Sharif University of Technology with the following goals:[59]

  • Documenting the experiences and lessons learned from the cooperation of the academic community in various stages of studying and implementing solutions to a national environmental challenge in the country.

See also



  1. ^ Persian: دریاچهٔ ارومیه, romanizedDaryâče-ye Orumiye; Azerbaijani: اۇرمۇ گؤلۆ, romanizedUrmu gölü; Kurdish: گۆلائوو رمیەیێ, romanized: Gola Ûrmiyeyê; Armenian: Ուրմիա լիճ, romanizedUrmia lich; Imperial Aramaic: ܝܡܬܐ ܕܐܘܪܡܝܐ
  1. ^ a b Urmia Lake Research Program. Lake Urmia’s surface increased by over 1500 km2 April 11, 2021.
  2. ^ a b 'Urmia, Lake'. Encyclopedia Iranica
  3. ^ a b c d e Stevens, Lora R.; Djamali, Morteza; Andrieu-Ponel, Valérie; de Beaulieu, Jacques-Louis (1 April 2012). "Hydroclimatic variations over the last two glacial/interglacial cycles at Urmia Lake, Iran". Journal of Paleolimnology. 47 (4). Springer Netherlands: 647. doi:10.1007/s10933-012-9588-3. S2CID 128970562.
  4. ^ Urmia Lake. 2012. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 14 August 2015, from https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/619901/Lake-Urmia
  5. ^ "Lake Urmia's surface increased by over 1500 km²". Tehran Times. 11 April 2021.
  6. ^ "Lake Urmia [or Orumiyeh]". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  7. ^ Henry, Roger (2003) Synchronized chronology: Rethinking Middle East Antiquity: A Simple Correction to Egyptian Chronology Resolves the Major Problems in Biblical and Greek Archaeology Algora Publishing, New York, p. 138, ISBN 0-87586-191-1
  8. ^ E. J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936, vol. 7, page 1037 citing Strabo and Ptolemy.
  9. ^ "Britanica". Britannica.com. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  10. ^ a b Stone, Richard (2 September 2015). "Saving Iran's great salt lake". Science. 349 (6252): 1044–5, 1047. Bibcode:2015Sci...349.1044S. doi:10.1126/science.aad1702. PMID 26339009.
  11. ^ Dudley, Dominic. "Iran's Lake Urmia: How A Dying Salt Lake Is Being Brought Back From The Brink". Forbes. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  12. ^ Richard Nelson Frye, The history of ancient Iran, München (1984), 48–49
  13. ^ The Proto-Indoaryans, by T. Burrow, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 2 (1973), pp. 123–140, published by: Cambridge University Press, see 139
  14. ^ "Search Entry". www.assyrianlanguages.org. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
  15. ^ Amurian, A.; Kasheff, M. (15 December 1986). "Armenians of modern Iran". Encyclopædia Iranica. Archived from the original on 26 October 2018. Retrieved 2 May 2016. Urmia (class. Arm. Kaputan) ...
  16. ^ Russell, James R. (1987). Zoroastrianism in Armenia. Harvard University. p. 430. Urmia Lake, called Kaputan cov by Arm. geographers...
  17. ^ "Armenian Highland". armin.am. Institute for Armenian Studies of Yerevan State University. In the Armenian Highland there are numerous lakes and ponds. The most majors are Kaputan (Urmia), Van and Sevan.
  18. ^ Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), Spauta
  19. ^ C. A. Burney, Excavations at Yanik Tepe, North-West-Iran, Iraq 23, 1961, pp. 138ff.
  20. ^ O. W. Muscarella, "The Chronology and Culture of Se Girdan: Phase III", Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 9/1-2, 2003, pp. 117-31
  21. ^ cf. Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2006), "Iran, vi(1). Earliest Evidence", Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. 13
  22. ^ George David Malech (1910). History of the Syrian Nation and the Old Evangelical-apostolic Church of the East: From Remote Antiquity to the Present Time. Gorgias Press LLC. pp. 1–. ISBN 978-1-59333-408-6.
  23. ^ Vander Werff, Lyle L. (1977). Christian mission to Muslims: the record: Anglican and Reformed approaches in India and the Near East, 1800–1938. The William Carey Library series on Islamic studies. William Carey Library. pp. 366. ISBN 978-0-87808-320-6.
  24. ^ Minahan, James (2002). Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations: A-C. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-313-32109-2.
  25. ^ Vander Werff, Lyle L. (1977). Christian mission to Muslims: the record: Anglican and Reformed approaches in India and the Near East, 1800–1938. The William Carey Library series on Islamic studies. William Carey Library. pp. 366. ISBN 978-0-87808-320-6.
  26. ^ Alireza Asem; Fereidun Mohebbi; Reza Ahmadi (2012). "Drought in Urmia Lake, the largest natural habitat of brine shrimp Artemia" (PDF). World Aquaculture. 43: 36–38. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 April 2016. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  27. ^ a b "UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Directory".
  28. ^ Asem, A.; Eimanifar, A.; Djamal, M.; De; Rios, P.; Wink, M. (2014). "Biodiversity of the Hypersaline Urmia Lake National Park (NW Iran)". Diversity. 6: 102–132. doi:10.3390/d6010102.
  29. ^ Asem, A.; Eimanifar, A.; Wink, M. (2016). ""Update of "Biodiversity of the Hypersaline Urmia Lake National Park (NW Iran)". Diversity. 8 (4): 6. doi:10.3390/d8010006.
  30. ^ "Lake Urmia [or Orumiyeh]". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 31 October 2023.
  31. ^ "ProtectedPlanet - Urumieh lake". Archived from the original on 23 March 2019. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  32. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2011. Urmia Lake. Eds. P. Saundry & C.  J.Cleveland. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington, D.C.
  33. ^ Critical condition of Artemia urmiana and possibility of extinction
  34. ^ Eimanifar A; Asem A; Djamali M; Wink M (2016). "A note on the biogeographical origin of the brine shrimp Artemia urmiana Günther, 1899 from Urmia Lake, Iran". Zootaxa. 4097 (2): 294–300. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4097.2.12. PMID 27394547. S2CID 25998873.
  35. ^ "Iran's East and West Azerbaijan Provinces Connected by Lake Orumiyeh Bridge". Payvand.com. Archived from the original on 6 September 2022. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  36. ^ a b Karmi N. Iran's largest lake turning to salt. Associated Press 25 May 2011. https://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110525/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iran_environmental_disaster/print
  37. ^ Erdbrink, Thomas (30 January 2014). "Its Great Lake Shriveled, Iran Confronts Crisis of Water Supply". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 31 January 2014. Retrieved 11 May 2017.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  38. ^ "Armenia to help Iran save drying lake Oroumiyeh". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  39. ^ "Iran to spend $500 million to save shrunken Lake Urmia". newscientist.com. 4 July 2014.
  40. ^ "Completed by the end of the 94 dams Silveh Piranshahr" (in Persian). Kurd Press. 23 August 2014. Archived from the original on 20 January 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  41. ^ "Silveh Dam and Irrigation and Drainage" (in Persian). Omran Iran - Deputy Governor of West Azerbaijan. Archived from the original on 20 January 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  42. ^ "Iran Using Plants to Fight Dust Pollution in Lake Urmia". 28 September 2018.
  43. ^ a b c d Mackey, Robert (30 August 2011). "Protests in Iran Over Disappearing Lake". The New York Times. Iran. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  44. ^ a b c d "Azeri Activists Detained in Iran For Environmental Protests". RFE/RL. 26 August 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  45. ^ a b c "Iranian greens fear disaster as Lake Orumieh shrinks". The Guardian. London. 5 September 2011.
  46. ^ "Rally protesting Iran over Urmia Lake turns violent". Hurriyet Daily News. 1 September 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  47. ^ "Iranian Protest Urges Help for Shrinking Lake". San Francisco Chronicle. 30 August 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  48. ^ "Azeri Turks in Ankara protest Urmia Lake drying up". todayszaman.com. Archived from the original on 6 September 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  49. ^ "Iran police break up environmental protests". euronews.net. 4 September 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2011.[permanent dead link]
  50. ^ "Iran arrests saltwater lake protesters". BBC. 4 September 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  51. ^ Daryani, Solmaz. "A reflection on how climate change altered Lake Urmia". The Caravan. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  52. ^ "Final winners of IdeasTap and Magnum Photos documentary photography award announced". British Journal of Photography. 22 December 2015. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  53. ^ Daryani, Solmaz. "Troubled Waters". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  54. ^ "The Eyes of Earth". emerge - Magazin für jungen Fotojournalismus (in German). 11 June 2018. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  55. ^ "Why is the largest lake in the Middle East drying up?". english.alarabiya.net. 17 March 2018. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  56. ^ List from: Farahang-e Joghrafiyayi-e shahrestânhâ-ye Keshvar (Shahrestân-e Orumiyeh), Tehran 1379 Hs.
  57. ^ Asem, Alireza; Eimanifar, Amin; Djamali, Morteza; De los Rios, Patricio; Wink, Michael (2014). "Biodiversity of the Hypersaline Urmia Lake National Park (NW Iran)". Diversity. 6: 102–132. doi:10.3390/d6010102.
  58. ^ Boyle, John Andrew (1974). "The Thirteenth-Century Mongols' Conception of the After Life: The Evidence of their Funerary Practices". Mongolian Studies. 1. Mongolia Society: 7. ISSN 0190-3667. JSTOR 43193015.
  59. ^ "درباره ما". طرح تحقیقاتی دریاچه ارومیه (in Persian). Retrieved 19 May 2023.