In DepthWATER RESOURCES

After revival, Iran's great salt lake faces peril

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Science  30 Apr 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6541, pp. 444-445
DOI: 10.1126/science.372.6541.444

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Summary

Iran's Lake Urmia has been on a rollercoaster in recent years. In 2013, the lake's surface area, once 6100 square kilometers, or about the size of Delaware, had shrunk by 90%, a plight reminiscent of that of the larger Aral Sea in Central Asia. To save the dying lake, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani launched a restoration initiative that has so far cost $1 billion. Now, Lake Urmia has a stronger pulse: Water levels have risen, and last summer flamingos were spotted in large numbers for the first time in years. But the rebound could be fleeting. The higher water appears to be almost entirely the result of a few years of unusually strong rains, a recent study concludes, but that pattern is already giving way to drier conditions. And Iran's June presidential election is expected to usher in a leader less committed to the lake's restoration than Rouhani, who can't run for re-election under the nation's constitution. "We're at a tipping point," says Somayeh Sima, a water resources specialist at Tarbiat Modares University. Even pausing restoration work for a year or two, she says, "would be dangerous for the lake."

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