The edge of the petri dish for a nation: Water resources carrying capacity assessment for Iran

Mostafa Khorsandi*, Saeid Homayouni, Pieter van Oel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Different methods have been proposed in population dynamics to estimate carrying capacity (K). This study estimates K for Iran, using three novel methods by integrating land and water limits into assessments based on Human Appropriated Net Primary Production (HANPP). The first method uses land suitability as the limiting resource. It gives theoretical estimates for K. The second method which is based on the first method, uses land suitability and water resources availability as limiting resources assuming highly efficient agriculture, also resulting in theoretical estimates for K. The third method is based on the second method assuming a lower, more realistic agricultural efficiency. The third therefore results in more realistic estimates. Four spatial hydrological scale levels were considered to estimate food production. Also, nine scenarios were defined: a reference one reflecting the current situation, five others for the first method, two for the second method, and finally, one scenario for the third method. Results show severe limitations on food production by the availability of suitable land, water availability, and crop productivity for agriculture. We estimated theoretical values for K using land and water limiting resources separately. Two realistic scenarios considering realistic agricultural productivity and water use at national and local levels were assessed, resulting in 35.5 and 20 million people, respectively. These are alarming values compared to the current population of Iran (84 million). Moreover, our conservative estimations are still higher than any assessment when considering social, economic, or political barriers. This research provides a systematic analysis of carrying capacity in Iran, showing the importance of food import on Iranians' lives, relevant to land, water, and food policies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153038
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2022


  • Carrying capacity
  • Google Earth Engine
  • Iran
  • Population
  • Water


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