Urmia Lake

Formerly known as Chichast and Kaboodan, the Urmia Lake is Iran's largest and the world's third-largest salt lake. The lake lies between the provinces of East and West Azarbaijan in northwestern Iran.

It is about 140 kilometers (87 miles) long, and 15-55 kilometers (10-34 miles) wide —, the width varies at different points. The Urmia Lake is 16 meters (52 feet) deep at its deepest point.

The lake is home to over 100 little islands — none of them inhabitable. The lake's largest island, Shahi Island, is the burial place of Hulagu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and the sacker of Baghdad. In 1967, the Iranian Department of Environment sent a team of scientists to study the ecology of Shahi Island. Various results of the study which included the breeding habits of brine shrimp were published by Javad Hashemi in the scientific journal, Iranian Scientific Sokhan.

Swimming in the Urmia is recommended by Aquatic therapists, who believe the mineral-rich water of the lake has therapeutic powers.

Lake Urmia is home to some 212 species of birds, 41 reptiles, 7 amphibians, and 27 species of mammals, including the Iranian yellow deer. It is an internationally registered protected area as both a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Ramsar site. The Iranian Dept. of Environment has designated most of the lake as a National Park.

The lake is marked by more than a hundred small, rocky islands, which serve as stopover points during the migrations of several wild birds including flamingos, pelicans, spoonbills, ibises, storks, shelducks, avocets, stilts, and gulls.

By virtue of its high salinity, the lake no longer sustains any fish species. Nonetheless, Lake Urmia is considered a significant natural habitat of Artemia (Artemia salina is a species of brine shrimp), which serve as food source for the migratory birds such as flamingos. 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.

As the lake separates the cities of Urmia and Tabriz — two major northwestern Iranian cities — it was decided to construct a highway across the Urmia Lake. The lake is divided into north and south, separated by a causeway in which a 1.5-kilometre gap provides little exchange of water between the two parts. 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/litre during recent years, and large areas of the lake bed have been desiccated.

The 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, lowering the lake viability as home to thousands of migratory birds including the large flamingo populations. The salinity has particularly increased in the half of the lake north of the causeway.

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


Source: Wikipedia, Press TV

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