Desiccation of a saline lake as a lock-in phenomenon: A socio-hydrological perspective

Parsa Pouladi, Amir Reza Nazemi, Mehrsa Pouladi, Zahir Nikraftar, Mohammadreza Mohammadi, Peyman Yousefi, David J. Yu, Abbas Afshar, Antoine Aubeneau, Murugesu Sivapalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding of how anthropogenic droughts occur in socio-hydrological systems is critical in studying resilience of these systems. This is especially relevant when a “lock-in” toward watershed desiccation occurs as an emergent outcome of coupling among social dynamics and surface and underground water processes. How the various processes collectively fit together to reinforce such a lock-in and what may be a critical or ignored feedback worsening the state of the socio-hydrological systems remains poorly understood. Here we tackle this gap by focusing on the case of Lake Urmia in Iran, a saline lake that faces the same fate as that of Aral Sea due to over-extraction of water sources that feed the lake. We develop an integrative, system-level understanding of how various anthropogenic, surface and underground environmental processes collectively generate the water scarcity and soil salinization issues in the study case. To this end, we investigate a paradoxical phenomenon wherein the increase of soil salinity has not noticeably affected the level of vegetation cover in Lake Urmia Basin. The outcome of our analysis may provide useful insights for informing policymakers how to cope with drought and water scarcity issues in many fragile saline lakes around the world that are currently under threat by overexploitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number152347
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Mar 10 2022


  • Agricultural activities
  • Anthropogenic drought
  • Lock-in
  • Salt-rich dust
  • Socio-hydrology
  • Soil salinity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry

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