Lake Urmia [or Orumiyeh] UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve
Lake Urmia [or Orumiyeh], Iran, Islamic Republic Of
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Lake Urmia (Persian: دریاچه ارومیه, Daryache-ye Orumiye, Azerbaijani: Urmu gölü اورمو گؤلو,Armenian: Ուրմիա Լիճ, "Urmia Lij"; ancient name: Lake Matiene) is a salt lake in northwestern Iran near Iran's border with Turkey. The lake is between the Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, west of the southern portion of the similarly shaped Caspian Sea. It is the largest lake in the Middle East, and the third largest saltwater lake on earth, with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km² (2,000 mile²), 140 km (87 mi) length, 55 km (34 mi) width, and 16 m (52 ft) depth.
It is protected as a national park by the Iranian Department of Environment. In 1967 the Department sent a team of Iranian scientists to count the deer population and study the ecology of the Shahi Island. A paper on the ecology of the island was published in the Iranian Scientific Sokhan by Javad Hashemi. This included a microscopic study of the breeding habit of Artemia.
One of the early mentions of Lake Urmia is from the Assyrian records from 9th century BCE. There, in the records of Shalmaneser III (reign 858–824 BCE), two names are mentioned in the area of Lake Urmia: Parsuwash and Matai. 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 Matais were Medes and linguistically the name Parsuwash matches the Old Persian word pārsa, an Achaemenid ethnolinguistic designation. The lake was known in medieval times as Kabudan, "azure/blue" to the Iranian peoples.
"Lake Matianus" (Latin: Lacus Matianus) is an old name for Lake Urmia. It was the center of the Mannaean Kingdom, a potential Mannaean settlement, represented by the ruin mound of Hasanlu, was on the south side of Lake Matianus. Mannae was overrun by the people who were called Matiani or Matieni, an Iranian people variously identified as Scythian, Saka, Sarmatian, or Cimmerian. It is not clear whether the lake took its name from the people or the people from the lake, but the country came to be called Matiene or Matiane.
The lake is named after the provincial capital city of Urmia, originally a Syriac name meaning city of water. In the early 1930s, it was called Lake Rezaiyeh (Persian: دریاچه رضائیه) after Reza Shah Pahlavi, but after the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s, the lake was renamed Urmia. Its ancient Persian name was Chichast (meaning, "glittering"–a reference to the glittering mineral particles suspended in the lake water and found along its shores). In medieval times it came to be known as Lake Kabuda, or "azure", in Persian, ('կապույտ' or "Kapuyt/Gabuyd" in Armenian).
The main cations in the lake water include Na+, K+, Ca2+, Li+ and Mg2+, while Cl–, SO42–, HCO3– are the main anions. The Na+ and Cl– concentration is roughly four times the concentration of natural seawater. Sodium ions are at slightly higher concentration in the south compared to the north of the lake, which could result from the shallower depth in the south, and a higher net evaporation rate.
The lake is divided into north and south, separated by a causeway in which a 1,500 m 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 smallest island of Lake Urmia, Osman fist.
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 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 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 habitats of Artemia, 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 extinct due to the drastic increases in salinity. However this assessment has been contradicted.
The lake is a major barrier between two of the most important cities in West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan provinces, Urmia and Tabriz. A project to build a highway across the lake was initiated in the 1970s but was abandoned after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, having finished a 15 km causeway with an unbridged gap. The project was revived in the early 2000s, and was completed in November 2008 with the opening of a 1.5 km bridge across the remaining gap. 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.
On August 2, 2012, Mohammad-Javad Mohammadizadeh, the head of Iran's Environment Protection Organization, announced that Armenia has agreed on transferring water from Armenia to counter the critical fall in Lake Oroumiyeh's water levels, 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 include 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; the 950-billion-toman plan was abandoned due to Azerbaijan's objections.
Satellite image of Lake Urmia, taken in November 2003, the bisectioning of the lake (due to construction of the bridge) is visible in the center of the lake.
Satellite image of Lake Urmia, 2010
Satellite imagery of lake Urmiah between years 1984 and 2011, showing great amount of drainage and surface area loss.
A palynological investigation on long cores from Lake Urmia has revealed a nearly 200 kyr record of vegetation and lake level changes. The vegetation has changed from the Artemisia/grass steppes during the glacial/stadial periods to oak-juniper steppe-forests during the interglacial/interstadial periods. The lake seems to have had a complex hydrological history and its water levels have greatly fluctuated in the geological history. Very high lake levels have been suggested for some time intervals during the two last glacial periods as well as during both the Last Interglacial as well as the Holocene. Lowest lake levels have occurred during the last glacial periods.
Lake Urmia has 102 islands. For a Persian transcription of a list of their names, see this link. The second largest island, Shahi Island, is the burial place of Hulagu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and the sacker of Baghdad.
From March 2010, a series of protests and rallies in Iranian Azerbaijan demanded action to save Lake Urmia:
Lake Urmia was the setting of the fictional Iranian film The White Meadows (2009), which featured fantastic-looking lands adjacent to a salt sea.
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