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Lake Urmia’s desiccation and recent nascent recovery have garnered international and Iranian attention. Lake restoration at this scale requires integration across many sciences, technology, engineering, management, and governance topics. Here, we synthesized 544 peer-reviewed articles on Lake Urmia indexed in the Scopus database, answered nine restoration questions of scientific and popular interest, and recommended next steps for consequential lake restoration. We find: (1) research on diverse topics is fragmented and needs more integration. (2) Ecological and limnological studies have mostly focused on salinity, Artemia, and Flamingos. (3) Dust from the dry lakebed and nearby regions has negatively impacted human health. (4) Most research seeks to restore the lake to a single, uniform level of 1274.1 m thought to recover Artemia. (5) The lake’s north and south arms have different chemical and physical properties but researchers disagree on how newly breaching the causeway that separates the arms will impact salinities, evaporation, and ecosystems. (6) Expanding irrigated agriculture, dam construction, and mismanagement had a larger impact on lake decline than temperature increases and precipitation decreases. (7) The Iranian government’s 5-year recovery effort helped raise lake level about 1 m and immobilize lakebed dust. (8) Only one study publicly shared data, and only three studies described engagement with stakeholders or managers. (9) Numerous suggestions to improve economic conditions, work with farmers, or change farmer-government processes require varying effort and most still require implementation. We see next steps for lake recovery to monitor ungauged or poorly characterized water flows throughout the basin; develop alternative livelihoods beyond agriculture; describe the entire food web that supports migratory birds; manage for diverse ecosystem objectives and their associated lake levels; adapt basin water management to available water and lake evaporation; build capacity to share data, models, and code; train researchers in data-sharing tools and best practices; and better connect research topics, researchers, stakeholders, and managers. All of our findings and next steps encourage Lake Urmia managers to extend restoration efforts beyond five years and cultivate more public support.

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