Lake Urmia

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Lake Urmia
Parts of the bridge that crosses the lake (2007).
Geographical position East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan (Iran)
Inflows Zarrineh
Drain no
Near shore place Urmia
Coordinates 37° 42′ N, 45° 19′ OCoordinates 37° 42′ N, 45° 19′ O
Urmiasee (Iran)

Elevation 1280 m
Area 5 470 km²
Maximum depth 16 m
Template:Infobox Lake/Maintenance/REFERENCE AREATemplate:Infobox Lake/Maintenance/REFERENCE MAX DEPTH

Lake Urmia (Persianدرياچهٔ اروميه, DMG Daryāče-ye Orūmīye; Middle Persian Čēčast;[1] azerbaijani: Urmiye Gölü; Kurdish: Gola Urmiyê), during the Pahlavi dynasty Lake Rezaiye after Reza Shah, is the largest inland lake in Iran. The city of Urmia is located on the lake. Its name is derived from the Syriac-Aramaic words ur for “city” and mia for “water” and means “city on the water”.


Until a few years ago, the lake was 140 km long, 55 km wide, and had an area of 5470 km², ten times larger than Lake Constance. Its average depth was only about 7 m, its maximum depth 16 m. Its water level was at 1280 meters above sea level. The salt content of the lake was up to 30 %, which is about the same as the salt content of the Dead Sea. Measurements from 1999, however, indicate a salinity of 21 to 23 %. This means that it provides a habitat for virtually no higher animal or plant species. However, brine shrimp defy the high salinity. The lake has no outflow and forms – similar to Lake Van in Turkey – a huge steppe lake. Salt deposits are often found on its shores. There are 102 islands in the lake.[2]
The lake drains an area of 51,000 km². The largest tributary is the Zarrine-Rūd, which flows into the lake in the south, followed by the Aji Chay, which flows into the eastern part. In addition, there are 13 major tributaries and other streams. On an average, the lake takes in 6.9 km³ of water per year. It belongs to the endorheic waters, so it is not drained into a sea.

Threat of salinisation and rescue efforts

Due to the water crisis in Iran in recent decades due to climatic and geographical conditions, but also due to human causes, there is a change in the mini-climate. Due to damming of the tributaries, the water level decreased continuously in the last decades. In 2014, the surface of the lake had already shrunk to one third of its original surface. As a result, the concentration of salt in the remaining lake water was increasing, rising to over 300 g per litre of lake water. This directly endangers the saltwater crabs living in the lake, which are the food for many bird species at the lake.

However, saving the lake moved into the political spotlight. Iranian President Hassan Rohani launched a decree for initial rescue measures. In 2014, a 10-point plan was to stop the exploitation of the water through wells in addition to increasing the inflow.[3] Although the damage to agriculture and tourism is already estimated at “several hundred billion euros” and almost five million people are at risk of relocation due to salt storms, including the metropolises of Urmia and Tabriz, the financing of rescue measures is proceeding slowly. According to Khalil Saei, a member of the expert commission, only one-fifth of the 400 million euros already pledged had been made available by 2017. In particular, the reforestation measures could not be financed. If everyone pulled together, the lake could be saved within seven years for six to seven billion euros. Parliament also disagrees on the appropriate measures. For example, the plan to divert water from the Aras River into Lake Urmia was rejected by parliament. Moreover, the classification as a national park, of all things, has created further hurdles and regulations that hinder the salvation of the lake.[4]

In contrast, a radio report by the Iranian foreign language portal ParsToday (the former IRIB World Service), also from 2017, describes a much more positive picture of the rescue efforts, especially when the fourth phase began and included agriculture, stopping the transfer of water and desilting canals. Thus, Gary Lewis, the representative of the UN residing in Iran, referred to the improvement of the last satellite images.[5]


In ancient times the climatic conditions were more temperate than at present. The lake, which in the Assyrian sources is called “Sea of Nairi” like Lake Van, was rich in fish at that time; oak and juniper trees grew in its surroundings. These were deforested, mostly in the Sassanid era, by 95%. Settlement combined with decreasing rainfall led to a deterioration of the microclimate, which caused the lake to dry up and become saline. Some sources believe that the ancient Persian prophet Zarathustra was born near Lake Urmia.[6]
Others write that he came from Bactria.[7]

Special features

Kazem-Daschi (May 2006)

On the island of Kabūdān, located in the lake, Hülegü, the Mongol ruler of Iran, was buried in 1265. The Iranian ruling dynasty of the Pahlavi had their holiday home there.

In the 1970s, work began on building a bridge (Bozorgrah-e Shahid Kalantari 37° 47′ 32.8″ N, 45° 22′ 30.8″ E) across the lake to connect the capitals of the provinces of West and East Azerbaijan, Urmia and Tabriz more quickly. Construction was halted after the 1979 revolution (see aerial photo 1984), but resumed in 2000 (see satellite photo 2003). The first of the three central steel bridges was opened on 17 November 2008, with the other two bridges opening in the following years.

An area of 463,600 ha around the lake has been classified as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve since 1976, providing a home for flamingos and pelicans, among others, which feed on the crabs from the lake. Pistachio forests grow on some islands. On the island of Kabūdān, Armenian wild sheep were introduced and subsequently multiplied greatly. When the population reached about 3000 animals and enormous damage was done to the vegetation, two leopards were poached in the hope that the predatory cats would regulate the wild sheep population. The leopards even had at least one cub, but the overall settlement was unsuccessful and since 1984 their trail has been lost. In the meantime, about 200-500 wild sheep are removed every year by the park administration.[8]
A population of the rare Mesopotamian fallow deer has also been released on the island.[9]

The most famous island is the rock formation Kazem-Dashi (Persianکاظمداشی, also Ghirkhlar 38° 3′ 26″ N, 45° 11′ 50″ O) between the provinces of eastern and western Azerbaijan. The massif was once a prominent rock jutting out of the water near the shore with a sloping plateau. It provided shelter from military danger to seven surrounding villages several times in history, including during World War I, and is therefore called the “habitat of forty men”. The former island is now connected to the mainland due to the sinking water level and is considered a historical landmark. It is named after the commander of the village guard “Kazem Khan”.[10][11]

Shrinkage of Lake Urmia from 1984 to 2014

Web links

Commons: Lake Urmia– Image collection

Individual references

  1. Cf. Encyclopædia article.
  2. Farahang-e Joghrafiyayi-e shahrestânhâ-ye Keshvar (Shahrestân-e Orumiyeh), Tehran 1959.
  3. Help for Lake Urmia in Iran, Deutsche Welle, 18 February 2014.
  4. No money to save Lake Urmia. IranJournal, 4 June 2017, retrieved 11 May 2018
  5. New life for Lake Urmia – Radio report with transcript in the portal ParsToday, 22 April 2017 (German)
  6. Seta B. Dadoyan: The Fatimid Armenians: Cultural and Political Interaction in the Near East. New York 1997, p. 156
  7. Wolfdietrich von Kloeden: Zarathustra. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Vol. 14, Bautz, Herzberg 1998, ISBN 3-88309-073-5, Sp. 344-355.
  8. D. M. Shackleton (ed.) and IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group: Wild Sheep and Goats and their Relatives. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Caprinae. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland/ Cambridge, UK 1997, p. 54.
  9. Dama mesopotamica in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2006. submitted by: Deer Specialist Group, 1996. retrieved 12 May 2006.
  10. Photos: Kazem Dashi; huge rocky structure in middle of Lake Urmia. Photo gallery in the editorial blog of, June 13, 2018
  11. Kazem Dashi; Huge Rocky Structure in Middle of Lake Urmia., 10 June 2018