University of Oulu

Noori, R., Maghrebi, M., Mirchi, A., Tang, Q., Bhattarai, R., Sadegh, M., Noury, M., Torabi Haghighi, A., Kløve, B., & Madani, K. (2021). Anthropogenic depletion of Iran’s aquifers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(25), e2024221118.

Anthropogenic depletion of Iran’s aquifers

Saved in:
Author: Noori, Roohollah1; Maghrebi, Mohsen2; Mirchi, Ali3;
Organizations: 1Water, Energy and Environmental Engineering Research Unit, Faculty of Technology, University of Oulu, 90014 Oulu, Finland
2School of Environment, College of Engineering, University of Tehran, 1417853111 Tehran, Iran
3Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078
4Key Laboratory of Water Cycle and Related Land Surface Processes, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 100101 Beijing, China
5College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, 100049 Beijing, China
6Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801
7Department of Civil Engineering, Boise State University, Boise, ID
8Science and Research Branch, Islamic Azad University, 1477893855 Tehran, Iran
9The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511
10Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 2.7 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-07-06


Global groundwater assessments rank Iran among countries with the highest groundwater depletion rate using coarse spatial scales that hinder detection of regional imbalances between renewable groundwater supply and human withdrawals. Herein, we use in situ data from 12,230 piezometers, 14,856 observation wells, and groundwater extraction points to provide ground-based evidence about Iran’s widespread groundwater depletion and salinity problems. While the number of groundwater extraction points increased by 84.9% from 546,000 in 2002 to over a million in 2015, the annual groundwater withdrawal decreased by 18% (from 74.6 to 61.3 km³/y) primarily due to physical limits to fresh groundwater resources (i.e., depletion and/or salinization). On average, withdrawing 5.4 km³/y of nonrenewable water caused groundwater tables to decline 10 to 100 cm/y in different regions, averaging 49 cm/y across the country. This caused elevated annual average electrical conductivity (EC) of groundwater in vast arid/semiarid areas of central and eastern Iran (16 out of 30 subbasins), indicating “very high salinity hazard” for irrigation water. The annual average EC values were generally lower in the wetter northern and western regions, where groundwater EC improvements were detected in rare cases. Our results based on high-resolution groundwater measurements reveal alarming water security threats associated with declining fresh groundwater quantity and quality due to many years of unsustainable use. Our analysis offers insights into the environmental implications and limitations of water-intensive development plans that other water-scarce countries might adopt.

see all

Series: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
ISSN: 0027-8424
ISSN-E: 1091-6490
ISSN-L: 0027-8424
Volume: 118
Issue: 25
Article number: e2024221118
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2024221118
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 218 Environmental engineering
Funding: We appreciate partial financial support for this study from the Water, Energy and Environmental Engineering Research Unit, Faculty of Technology, University of Oulu. We thank Sahand Ghadimi for improving the quality of the figures. A.M. acknowledges the Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies professorship from Oklahoma State University’s School of Global Studies and Partnerships. Q.T. acknowledges the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41730645). K.M. is thankful for the Henry Hart Rice Fellowship from the Council on Middle East Studies of the Yale University’s MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.
Dataset Reference: Supporting information:
Copyright information: Copyright © 2021 the Author(s). Published by PNAS. This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC BY).