The Climate of Iran: Challenges and Future Directions
Iran is prone to a range of natural hazards, including prolonged droughts that have been the focus of a majority of environmental studies. However, other phenomena caused by climate extremes, such as heavy floods, drying lakes, heat waves, dust storms, wildfires, and water pollution, can be equally important but often receive much less attention. The compound effects of such events have resulted in environmental crises, human migration, and conflicts at domestic and regional scales. The global climate models have projected that the adverse impacts of climate change in regions with known transboundary water tension, such as the GAP initiative in Turkey, may potentially exacerbate future environmental issues in downstream countries like Iran (Dezfuli et al., 2022). To mitigate those impacts, a range of actions shall be taken; some are briefly discussed here.
Need to better understand the regional climate
First, we need to better understand the physical processes responsible for the climate of the region. The majority of weather and climate analyses on Iran have taken a statistical approach. While those techniques are necessary, they do not offer a full understanding of the complex interactions between various climate features that act across spatial and temporal scales (Dezfuli, 2022). One of those phenomena is the role of atmospheric rivers in extreme floods and the water resources of Iran (Dezfuli 2020 & Dezfuli et al. 2021). Another example is the contribution of dust aerosols to precipitation and water resources. The study of these emerging topics would be in fact, strengthened if the physical approaches were combined with advanced machine learning techniques. These hybrid models may improve the operational forecasts, which are an essential component in decision support systems for natural hazards.
Data: the more, the better!
Predictions rely heavily on the quality of observations used as initial analyses in dynamic weather forecast models. The first step is to expand the weather radar network, which would help improve those forecasts and be instrumental for monitoring and long-term climate assessment and planning in the country. In addition, a data analysis system should be developed to exploit recent and upcoming satellite observations led by NASA for various applications, including surface water monitoring, air quality, and ecosystem sustainability. If embargoes were lifted, another excellent source of data could emerge from partnerships with the private sector that launch low-cost satellites. Of course, this effort may be augmented by developing domestic satellites customized for Iran’s needs.
Adaptation, mitigation, and regional cooperation
Finally, we must face reality: climate change and controversial regional developments such as GAP exist. It is not realistic to expect these manmade changes to be reversed. Therefore, Iran must focus on environmental education, adaptation, and mitigation strategies. At the regional scale, there is no alternative to diplomacy and dialogue between neighboring countries to reach bilateral and multilateral agreements for transboundary and shared water resources. Those treaties should incorporate direct transboundary issues, such as water stress in downstream countries, and cascading events, such as respiratory diseases due to enhanced dust storms or increased human migration due to water, energy, and food shortages.
Dr. Amin Dezfuli (@AminDezfuli) is a senior research scientist working at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center through the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His research focuses on climate change and extreme events, their causes, and impacts, mainly over the Middle East and Africa. He uses in situ and satellite-based observations as well as climate models to address questions of fundamental and applied climatology and water resources. He has a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences from Florida State University.