In the late 1990s, Lake Urmia, in north-western Iran, was twice as large as Luxembourg and the largest salt-water lake in the Middle East. Since then it has shrunk substantially, and was sliced in half in 2008, with consequences uncertain to this day, by a 15-km causeway designed to shorten the travel time between the cities of Urmia and Tabriz. Historically, the lake attracted migratory birds including flamingos, pelicans, ducks and egrets. Its drying up, or desiccation, is undermining the local food web, especially by destroying one of the world’s largest natural habitats of the brine shrimp Artemia, a hardy species that can tolerate salinity levels of 340 grams per litre, more than eight times saltier than ocean water. Effects on humans are perhaps even more complicated. The tourism sector has clearly lost out. While the lake once attracted visitors from near and far, some believing in its therapeutic properties, Urmia has turned into a vast salt-white barren land with beached boats serving as a striking image of what the future may hold.
Desiccation will increase the frequency of salt storms that sweep across the exposed lakebed, diminishing the productivity of surrounding agricultural lands and encouraging farmers to move away. Poor air, land, and water quality all have serious health effects including respiratory and eye diseases .
The results of an investigation, which recently appeared in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, revealed that in September 2014 the lake’s surface area was about 12% of its average size in the 1970s, a far bigger fall than previously realised. The research undermines any notion of a crisis caused primarily by climate changes. It shows that the pattern of droughts in the region has not changed significantly, and that Lake Urmia survived more severe droughts in the past.
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Photo by : Paolo Patrizi @paolopatrizi
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