Tehran is sinking fast, and it may be too late to recover

The ground is shifting under Iran’s capital, Tehran

Advertisement – Advertise here from OMR 100 / $275 USD

Al-Sahawat Times | Ethical Global News from Oman and UAE | Donate HERE 

Advertisement – Advertise here from OMR 100 / $275 USD

Greater Tehran, home to some 15 million people and one of the biggest cities by population in western Asia.

High-resolution satellite images recently revealed that in some places, the metropolis of the Middle East is sinking about 10 inches (25 centimetres) per year.

Scientists investigated satellite data of the capital city gathered from 2003 to 2017 and found significant sinking also known as subsidence in about 10 percent of the city centre and in many villages in Tehran’s north-western region, according to an article published Nov. 30 in the journal Nature.


Manifestations of the subsidence can be sudden appearances of giant cracks and sinkholes in some areas. Ali Beitollahi, head of engineering seismology at the Building and Housing Research Centre in Tehran explained that in one case, a farmer was trapped for hours in a 20-foot-deep (6 meters) sinkhole after a crack opened where he was standing.

Fissures that formed near fields are also affecting crops, as they drain water meant to irrigate the land.

In this new study of satellite data, researchers found Tehran’s current subsidence rate to be among the highest in the world, with groundwater loss driven by drought, dam construction and a booming population.

Another troubling discovery was that rainfall wasn’t replenishing depleted groundwater reserves, suggesting it may already be too late for the land to recover. The scientists’ findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

Tehran isn’t the only sinking city. Satellite observations have also shown that Venice, Italy; parts of western Texas and coastal Louisiana; California’s San Joaquin Valley and San Francisco International Airport are victims of subsidence.

Prior research pointed to groundwater drainage as the cause of Tehran’s sinking, which was already underway by the early 2000s.

The first signs of sinking emerged under agricultural areas; since 2003 the problem has expanded to urban zones in the east, where the effects of Tehran’s sinking ground is visible in skewed buildings and roads, according to the journal Nature.

Illegal well drilling is placing even more of a strain on dwindling groundwater, raising the risk of accelerating the sinking, the scientists found. Government officials are trying to crack down on illegal wells, but while 100,000 have been shut down, an estimated 30,000 remain.

Should the sinking continue, Tehran’s railways, bridges, gas and oil pipelines, and electrical infrastructure could be at risk, the journal Nature reported.

Many great cities of the world are sinking due to poorly reclaimed land from the sea or rivers, underground transport systems, mining or well digging. Famous cities sinking include Venice (Italy), London (UK).

Since you’re here …

… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading Al-Sahawat Times than ever but advertising revenues across the global media industry are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a total paywall. We want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. Al-Sahawat Times’ independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe truly ethical media and an unbias perspective really matters.

“I appreciate there not being a paywall: it is more democratic for the media to be available for all and not a commodity to be purchased by a few. I’m happy to make a contribution so others with less means still have access to information.”

If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps fund it, the future of ethical media and the futures of our staff and their families would be much more secure. For as little as £1, you can support Al-Sahawat Times and it only takes a minute. Thank you. 



This story is available on:


Talk to a journalist

Email: NewsDesk@alsahawat.com

Web: alsahawat.com

Follow Al-Sahawat Times

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On LinkedinVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On Instagram
Read it on Apple News

?Read it on FLIPBOARD

M.AlSaid@alsahawat.com | Journalist 

About the Author

Michael Al-Said
News correspondent for Al-Sahawat Times since 2012