From the Editor

Behind current efforts to stabilize and rebuild, Iraq is the land of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Land of Eden, the cradle of civilization and the path of the Fertile Crescent. These faraway names echo from the same ancient history texts that spoke of Sparta, Genghis Khan, the Holy Crusades and Hannibal crossing the Alps. Human history casts a long shadow over the land and its peoples. This month we take an early glimpse at the conditions of the country’s water, land and petroleum resources on the heels of a punishing regime and war.

Our first feature, “Assessing Iraq’s Oil Potential” by Mohammad Al-Gailani, highlights the country’s most famous modern resource, petroleum. The country enjoys the second largest reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia — and that even before Iraq has been covered by 3-D seismic surveys, the modern technology that has significantly increased discoveries, reserves and ultimately production in other petroleum provinces of the world. The large size of known fields will easily sustain an increase from pre-war production capacity of 3.5 million barrels of oil per day to the target production of 6 million barrels of oil per day, Al-Gailani writes, assuming that current daily distractions and operating problems can be overcome. The environmental community, naturally, is concerned that such an expansion be achieved with minimal environmental impact. A similarly long-range matter is that of converting the non-renewable petroleum resource into a sustainable “currency” that will support the growth and stability of Iraq ad infinitum.

In our second feature, “Water, Agriculture and Land Cover: Lessons from the Postwar Era,” Mohamed Sultan and colleagues frame the water endowment and agricultural history of the country, but quickly dispel any images of Mesopotamian tranquility trickling down from that earth-breaking civilization. Iraq’s upstream neighbors — Turkey, Iran and Syria — threaten to further decrease flows of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, endangering much of the 20 percent of Iraq’s land now used for farming. It would also further destroy the wetlands that the country’s recent leadership reduced to a fraction of their former productivity and size. So once again, resource conflicts threaten to overshadow the inescapable challenges of resource technology, not the least of which include water supply, salinization of soils, and the introduction of modern farming and irrigation systems.

Staff Writer Naomi Lubick elaborates on the wetland issues in our third feature, “Iraq’s Marshes Renewed.” Based on remote sensing and recent post-war visits by scientists, the historic marshlands are proving difficult to find. The area of reeds, lakes and ephemeral marshes, the former home of the Mesopotamian civilization and first known sites of agriculture, have been reduced from 20,000 square kilometers to only 7 percent of that size during recent decades. Dams near the headwaters and diversions for irrigation account for most of the problem, although retribution against marsh-dwelling insurgents may have also played a role. Plans for restoration of at least a portion of this historic, productive and ecologically significant area are already underway.

This month’s Comment, “Reconstructing Afghanistan: Nation Building or Nation Failure?” by John F. Shroder Jr., continues our theme of resources under conflict, but addresses an earlier stage in the fight against terrorism. Readers may remember Shroder’s notes on Afghanistan in earlier issues of Geotimes (March 1987, February 2002), when routing terrorists from caves was the primary challenge. Now, the author says that reconstruction of the country is the matter at hand. In order to bring the development of mineral resources along as part of the country’s redevelopment, previously discussed investments from outside the country must now be made. Shroder conveys some pessimism, saying: “The wretched of that benighted country certainly deserve better than the little that has been done up to now.”

A final note on this month’s Political Scene, “Endowing the AGI Congressional Fellowship” by our editor, David Applegate: what a beautiful coincidence of the accidental and the appropriate. Fundraising for the fellowship in honor of William L. Fisher, long-time Texas state geologist, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology and director of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas, Austin, has progressed to the point that an announcement is appropriate. Congressional science fellowships provide earth scientists with our most direct opportunity to understand and affect the political process and public policy. The timing may be accidental, but the focus of this month’s issue illustrates that geoscientists have a great deal to contribute to some of the most pressing issues of our time regarding resources and the environment. That, after all, is what determined the recent history of, and will surely determine the future for, Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunate we are in our country to have a leader of Bill Fisher’s caliber for whom to build a permanently endowed fellowship.

Believe your compass,

Samuel S. Adams
Geotimes Editor-in-Chief

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