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Climatic or regionally induced by humans? Tracing hydro-climatic and land-use changes to better understand the Lake Urmia tragedy
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Number of Authors: 92019 (English)In: Journal of Hydrology, ISSN 0022-1694, E-ISSN 1879-2707, Vol. 569, p. 203-217Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Lake Urmia-a shallow endemic hypersaline lake in northwest Iran-has undergone a dramatic decline in its water level (WL), by about 8 m, since 1995. The primary cause of the WL decline in Lake Urmia has been debated in the scientific literature, regarding whether it has been predominantly driven by atmospheric climate change or by human activities in the watershed landscape. Using available climate, hydrological, and vegetation data for the period 1981-2015, this study analyzes and aims to explain the lake desiccation based on other observed hydro-climatic and vegetation changes in the Lake Urmia watershed and classical exploratory statistical methods. The analysis accounts for the relationships between atmospheric climate change (precipitation P, temperature T), and hydrological (soil moisture SM, and WL) and vegetation cover (VC; including agricultural crops and other vegetation) changes in the landscape. Results show that P, T, and SM changes cannot explain the sharp decline in lake WL since 2000. Instead, the agricultural increase of VC in the watershed correlates well with the lake WL change, indicating this human-driven VC and associated irrigation expansion as the dominant human driver of the Lake Urmia desiccation. Specifically, the greater transpiration from the expanded and increasingly irrigated agricultural crops implies increased total evapotranspiration and associated consumptive use of water (inherently related to the irrigation and water diversion and storage developments in the watershed). Thereby the runoff from the watershed into the lake has decreased, and the remaining smaller inflow to the lake has been insufficient for keeping up the previous lake WL, causing the observed WL drop to current conditions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019. Vol. 569, p. 203-217
Keywords [en]
Lake Urmia, Climate change, Land-use change, Anthropogenic change, Vegetation, Water resources management
National Category
Civil Engineering Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-166741DOI: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.12.004ISI: 000457952900016OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-166741DiVA, id: diva2:1296925
Available from: 2019-03-18 Created: 2019-03-18 Last updated: 2019-03-18Bibliographically approved

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Khatami, SinaMadani, KavehKalantari, ZahraDestouni, GeorgiaAghakouchak, Amir
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