31 August 2007

Iraq's Water Crisis

Primary Sources:
23 May 2007: San Francisco Gate
1 in 8 Iraqis dies before fifth birthday
25 June 2007: US Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Iraq: Reconstruction Assistance
13 July 2007: US Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and Security
30 July 2007: Reuters India
Hunger, disease spread in Iraq - Oxfam report
7 August 2007: BBC
Iraq power system 'near collapse'
20 August 2007: Washington Post
Warming Will Exacerbate Global Water Conflicts
23 August 2007: New York Times
Report Cites Grave Concerns on Iraq’s Government
23 August 2007: Environmental News Network
Iraq calls for water treaty to avert crisis
Blog Sources:
Enterprise Resilience Management Blog
13 August 2007: Turkey, Kurdistan and Water
15 August 2007: Tragedy Knocks on Kurdistan's Door
20 August 2007: Fighting the Wolves at the Door in Kurdistan
22 August 2007: The Coming Water Wars?
Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below.

I previously posted a brief analysis on Kurdistan that covered both politics and natural resources in the region. As a self-governing, semi-autonomous region of Iraq with relatively little sectarian violence, that part of the country presents a clear contrast to the remainder of Iraq, especially the areas around Baghdad. I was certainly gratified to be quoted (extensively) by Mr. DeAngelis on his Enterprise Resilience Management Blog in the first of his posts listed above, and to have the support on my views of the importance and complexity of natural resources in that region from someone who is actually working with the Kurds on a consistent and progressive basis.

As in many areas where clean water and sanitation are scarce essentials, both hunger and disease are spreading in war-torn Iraq, as reported by Oxfam International. The diseases develop over time, from gastric symptoms and malnutrition, which might not have gone so long untreated if health care had been a primary objective of the current occupation and peace-making efforts. Water will remain scarce in Iraq, and it is up to the occupation force and its leadership to make something out of almost nothing. It sure is a good thing that Kurdistan remains peaceful, and that neighboring Turkey is open to cross-border negotiation on water allocation in the Tigris-Euphrates basin that supports most of Iraq.

Oh, wait, that's not correct...I think my well-developed senses of sarcasm and irony are showing (at least it's not cynicism...yet). Ethnic clashes have recently entered the normally peaceful Kurdish sector of Iraq, and the region remains under threat of invasion from neighboring Turkey as the Turkish military seeks to eliminate fleeing PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) separatists in the eastern portion of their country. Syria, which at one time supported the PKK in Turkey while suppressing its own Kurdish population's nationalist ambitions, seems mute on the current flare-ups over Kurdish independence, but is not likely to remain so.

Why? Because of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. From my point of view, at least part of the problem comes back to the water again. Water is a fact of life in the region, and the people there don't forget it. Turkey, Syria, and Iraq share the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and these transboundary water resources are subjected to increasingly poor management in the current environment of constant conflict and patchy infrastructure. A fractious population, wolves on the borders, wolves in-country, and near-nonexistent government leadership have left much of Iraq's infrastructure and basic services in a shambles, and all of this as the US continues to throw money at the problem. The Iraqi oil ministry still functions, but the power grid and water supplies suffer from mismanagement and, essentially, ignorance. As New York Times op-ed columnist Tom Friedman wrote on 1 July 2007: "At best we are dog paddling in the Tigris. Which means at least we should start to think about what happens if we have to get out of the water."

To wit (number 1): Much of Baghdad receives consistent electric power for only about eight hours every day, on average. Infrastructure issues include normal repair and upkeep, as well as sabotage from militants and insurgents. Many in the capital have resorted to private generators for electricity. It is not apparent from news reports that the occupied "Green Zone" in Baghdad fares any better, and it can only be assumed that rural areas of Iraq find electric power both less accessible and less available.

To wit (number 2): This past week, the coalition government in Baghdad issued a plea for regional cooperation on water sources and the management of the Tigris and Euphrates River basin. Iraqis see a crisis already in place, where water supplies from upstream depend entirely on the benevolence of Syria and, primarily, Turkey. To add to Baghdad's problems, the water must be pumped out of the Tigris to reach much of the city's population, and the electricity to drive those pumps remains in short and sporadic supply. Both water supply and proper sanitation, basic requirements of life for the entire city, remain in jeopardy.

After $42B (and counting) in US spending for reconstruction efforts in Iraq, this is what we have to show for it? Saddam is gone, there are no longer any weapons of mass destruction to be found and eliminated, and yet the US occupation of Iraq has been compared to that of Vietnam in the mid-1960s by none other than our own president. If I recall correctly, Vietnam has been classified as a "quagmire" in the retrospective consensus of American history. It's almost as if the occupation force has given up on its continuing mission, which ought to be the establishment and improvement of "normal life" for the Iraqi people by now.

As a matter of fact, there is evidence to support that assessment too. Quoted in a BBC news item of 7 August 2007, listed above, "the general in charge of helping Iraq rebuild its infrastructure, Michael Walsh, said that although Iraqi authorities only have one-quarter of the money needed for reconstruction, solving the problem was now up to them. Gen. Walsh told the BBC that the US had jump-started reconstruction but that, working with donor nations, the Iraqi government needed to do the rest." It is disappointing to think that the occupying military, and especially its engineers, don't see the problems that already affect the very area that is most secure. Maybe the Green Zone has no power and water problems, because all the necessities came in with the troops, but I wouldn't know.

It is obvious, though, that the Iraqis are not ready to receive such responsibility for basic infrastructure maintenance and reconstruction, and the military forces have not done enough to bring those facilities back into operation following the initial invasion and subsequent insurgent phases of occupation in the country. General Walsh's statement seems out of line with independent observations of the situation, and reflects a lack of understanding of the situation "on the ground" where the basics of Iraqi survival are at stake. An inability, or refusal, to address such basic infrastructure issues with the available expertise and capability that the US occupation force brought to Iraq may leave the Green Zone the only place in Baghdad, and much of Iraq, not rendered a disease-infested slum where "hearts and minds" are lost. If the Iraqis don't trust the US forces and authority to bring improvement to their country, then who?

The US occupation in Iraq had followed many long and twisty paths, and one goal that seems to have been lost is the maintenance and improvement of day-to-day life for the Iraqi population. When the populace doesn't trust the occupation authority and their nascent, native government to provide the basics of life, the essential elements of survival, a siege mentality could set in, and then a full-scale revolt threatens all groups in authority. We already see rival Sunni groups fighting each other, as well as going after the Shi'ite majority and Kurdish minorities. The Kurds have taken many great steps toward recovery and development of their own region, but I doubt they'll be able to exert much authority in the larger portion of the country, and instead of looking to the Kurds for an example of "just get the job done" the other ethnic and religious groups in the country are too busy fighting for illusive power and political standing.

It's time for the occupation forces to flood the region with honest engineers, and eventually scientists, and then to train the Iraqis to do the jobs that basic infrastructure requires: power engineering, water engineering, sanitation engineering, power grid maintenance and expansion, and transportation engineering in order to bring in the people and the supplies, including food, for which the country is starving. It's time for the politicians in, and the envoys from, the US to jump in the deep end of foreign policy and broker a new water treaty among the Tigris-Euphrates riparians, so that reconstruction in Iraq can accelerate and not stagnate. It's time for the occupation forces to stop treading water and start moving it, for the good of the Iraqi people.

23 August 2007

ESA's Earth Observation Missions,
Part 2: Groundwater

Primary Sources:
30 October 2006: NASA
Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission
January 2007: National Academies Press
Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond
19 July 2007: European Space Agency
Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) mission
27 July 2007: BBC
'Space arrow' to map Earth's tug
22 August 2007: EurekAlert!
Climate change goes underground
23 August 2007: Vadose Zone Journal (open-access section)
Special Section: Groundwater Resources Assessment under the Pressures of Humanity and Climate Change
Additional sources include Wikipedia.

Although my first post in this series was intended to focus on the European Space Agency's push for Earth Observation missions, I recognize that I placed almost equal focus on US (NASA) efforts toward similar measurements. I want to provide context as well as commentary, and NASA has led the way in EO missions thus far. ESA, however, is the up-and-coming competitor in this area of science and remote sensing, and their efforts deserve recognition for innovation as well as the extensive partnership within the European Union that brings these missions about. That work is truly collaborative, and for the benefit of all. In the meantime, the bulk of NASA funding remains mired in the so-called "Vision for Space Exploration" proposed some time ago by the Bush administration, which is only now coming around to recognize that heavy investment in science and technical programs at both educational and professional levels will ensure American competitiveness in the coming years. The administration's approach to climate change is another story, but one that I think will show significant changes soon, and for very specific reasons that I will discuss in that series of posts in the coming weeks.

On the topic of groundwater remote sensing, the GRACE mission is a partnership between NASA and the German Space Agency and has been in orbit for more than five years now. The mission is actually past it's nominal operational lifetime, and has repeatedly shown its value in the measurement of total-column water storage changes, which translate primarily to changes in groundwater storage when other factors (atmospheric and surface water) are removed from the calculation. The twin satellites flying in formation that make up the GRACE mission were, in fact, designed primarily to measure spatial differences in total gravity of the Earth, of which water constitutes only a miniscule portion. Given all the core and mantle material that make up nearly 6360 km of the Earth's radius to the underside of the crust, and that the other approximately 11 km of Earth radius through the Earth's crust is nearly solid bedrock, albeit plastic in many regions but with proportionately small water content almost everywhere, the geologists' noise becomes the hydrologists' signal. GRACE is capable of capturing changes in total water storage at spatial resolutions near 800 km, and has been used for studies of water balance in large drainage basins such as the Mississippi, Amazon, Ganges, and others. A great deal of information on GRACE data, science and publications is available at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's GRACE Tellus site.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this brief series of posts on ESA EO missions, the US National Research Council released a "Decadal Survey" of NASA and community Earth Science missions earlier this year. That report called for a GRACE follow-on, dubbed "GRACE-II," as a medium-cost mission (approx. $450M) for launch in the 2016-2020 time period. For data continuity, the community and NASA should hope for a follow-on mission sooner. In fact, given the nominal lifetime for the original GRACE mission, launch of GRACE-II should have been planned for sometime in the next three years, not 9+ years out! However, the report also suggested upgrades to the mission concept, including an even better laser ranging system for the twin satellites that will allow for more accurate measurements and significant improvements in spatial resolution. Since it takes time and money to develop that kind of technology, following one ground-breaking mission with another deserves a little slack. But only a little! Remember, data continuity is key to change detection.

In the meantime, ESA has begun construction and testing of the first Earth Explorer Core mission of its Living Planet Programme. The mission is a single-satellite design with highly sensitive accelerometers and 12-channel GPS receivers, and aims to measure the Earth's geoid at spatial resolutions of 100 km or better. Such an anticipated improvement over GRACE is welcome in the science community, and will allow for more detailed studies of both large- and medium-sized river basins for groundwater, surface water, and glacial cover, as well as oceanographic factors such as sea-level changes and deep-layer currents for which both GRACE and GOCE are also designed.

The GOCE mission is scheduled for launch in Spring 2008 and may actually provide the data continuity that the community wants, provided the measurements are sufficiently compatible. Then, I suppose, it's up to GRACE-II to advance the science and technology even further. The first GRACE was selected for funding under NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) program as its first mission (ESSP-1) in 1997. GRACE was launched in 2002, the Science Team was subjected to recompetition for funding in 2007, and the mission has already been extended through 2009. There is no funding for development of the follow-on mission in the NASA FY2008 budget request. Neither is there funding requested to support the next program Announcement of Opportunity (AO), for ESSP-4. The AOs were supposed to come biennially, but it takes even longer than that just to collect the proposals and decide on the finding selections, and the latest has been held in anticipation since ESSP-3 selections were announced in 2002, when the ESSP-4 AO would have been scheduled for release.

In related news, scientists in two collaborative groups based primarily in Europe have begun looking at the potential impacts of climate change on groundwater resources. Based on climate results fed to detailed land surface models (LSMs) that account for subsurface storage and aquifer recharge, as well as runoff and vegetation, both groups have concluded that the response of groundwater to climate forcing is essentially a positive feedback: greater storage and recharge in wetter regions, reduced storage and recharge in dry areas. Many dry areas of the world were once wetter, though, and fossil aquifers exist in many regions (US Midwest, Sub-Saharan Africa, Saudi Arabia) where the geology is favorable for aquifer formation. These sources are seeing growing rates of withdrawal and exploitation. A study by Danish and Greenland scientists has found:
"The magnitude of the water response to the simulated climate change was highly dependent on the geological setting. In the study area characterized by sandy top soils and large, interconnected aquifers, the groundwater levels rose significantly. For the other study, with low-permeable top soils and thick clay layers, the groundwater levels only showed minor changes. The primary effect in this area was the change in river discharge with up to 50% increase in winter and 50% decrease in summer."
Several studies by these and other groups were presented in April 2006 at a UNESCO conference on Groundwater Resources Assessment under the Pressures of Humanity and Climate Change (GRAPHIC) and appear in a special open-access section of Vadose Zone Journal beginning today.

Though the subsurface reacts much more slowly to climate changes in the atmosphere and at the land surface, groundwater is a vital and less-understood link in the global hydrologic cycle, and provides countless people with their only water source in many areas of the world, including those struggling just to survive, let alone grow food and make a living. Other than individual well measurements and lots of mathematical guesswork, remote observations from orbital platforms provide an ideal way to get at the present state of groundwater resources, improve our understanding of the dynamics involved, and get a better grasp on the future of these resources under the influence of inevitable climate change.

11 August 2007

Global Warming and Climate Change,
Part 0: Alarms (and Alarmists)

Primary sources:
4 August 2006: Washington Post
More Frequent Heat Waves Linked to Global Warming
7 February 2007: People's Daily Online
Global warming results in extreme weather events in China
25 July 2007: Chicago Sun-Times
Higher city temps blamed on global warming
7 August 2007: UN World Meteorological Organization
Press Release No. 791
8 August 2007: the daily green
U.N.: Extreme Weather Is Sign Of Global Warming
9 August 2007: Planet Ark (Reuters)
INTERVIEW - Asia Floods Show Climate Change Risks Ahead
9 August 2007: Planet Ark (Reuters)
ANALYSIS - Floods Find India Wanting as Climate Change Looms
Additional sources include Wikipedia.

Following a new UN report and press release on the already-apparent impacts of global warming on weather events and daily lives around the world, the daily green (listed above) offered some "facts" on global warming:
  • Eleven of the past twelve years rank among the 12 warmest on record for global surface temperature.
  • The rate of warming has doubled in the past 50 years.
  • The temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere in the second half of the 20th century were very likely higher than any other 50-year period in at least 500 years, and likely the highest in at least 1,300 years.
  • Extreme weather events have become more frequent in the past 50 years.
  • Unabated global warming will continue to make extreme weather events more frequent.
Let's pick this list apart, shall we? The first two items can indeed be considered "facts" of global warming, as they are based on hard data and scientific analysis. The third item is conjecture (note the language: "very likely" and "likely"), based on available evidence that is far smaller in volume than the most recent records. The fourth item is subjective, and depends entirely on how "extreme weather events" are defined. The last item isn't a "fact" but rather a prediction, or more precisely a hypothesis (educated guess).

I plan to address various aspects of global warming, a.k.a. climate change, in several posts on the topic. Right up front, note that I'm not at all a skeptic on the issue of global warming--the statistical evidence is obvious and well-founded. I read Al Gore's Earth in the Balance way back when it was published the first time, in 1992, and I've been a scientist-philosopher and tree-hugger (or maybe "water-hugger," to coin a term) ever since. A few things are clear to me by now: (1) the data and interpretations of global warming and climate change are constantly subject to manipulation and obfuscation, (2) we can't reverse global warming, and (3) we can't "save the Earth," but we can work really hard to "save the humans."

On the first point, I need only to point out that the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) is one of the few professional scientific organizations that still does not endorse the most authoritative reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To be clear, those are scientists in a professional association oriented on Earth Science, and they still doubt, which is certainly their right and responsibility--where would science be without doubt? My guess is that the AAPG is simply more susceptible to manipulation at the highest levels by political and commercial interests. Politicians and bureaucrats in our own federal government, some of whom are closely tied to (and even still employed by) the massive oil industry, have relied on threats and deception to deny public access to information and to alter public opinion, primarily to advance their own agendas and profits, and they are beyond contempt.

What do I really think about them? They should all spend a summer in Iraq as laborers, working the oil wells that they so dearly want to exploit and getting shot at while they do it. Then, when they get some time off, they should go to India and Bangladesh to assist relief efforts following the monsoon and cyclone floods. For the winter, they should go to Africa to build houses and drill water wells in increasingly dry conditions, where they just might get shot at again while they're working to protect refugees from the genocide in Darfur. But enough about my disdain for corrupt politicians and their meddling with the scientific process...

On the second point, apparently there's so much heat trapped in the oceans by now that, even if we cease all carbon and other greenhouse emissions immediately, the warming trend would actually continue for another thousand years or so before a new quasi-stable climate is established. In the meantime, the Earth's systems are always in a dynamic balance. One little change in the atmospheric greenhouse gas content will cause higher surface temperatures, melt ice caps, slow the ocean circulations, enhance the intensity of the atmospheric hydrologic cycle, bring on more extreme weather events, cause expanded desertification in the tropics, shift plant and animal populations, and eventually change the optics of the atmosphere and surface, all to restore some measure of balance.

We must accept that climate is a nonlinear adaptive system in dynamic equilibrium, with any number of quasi-stable preferred states (attractors), only one of which we can observe right now. Those of you who have read some of Ed Lorenz's early work in climate and atmospheric science, or the superb Chaos by James Gleick, will know what I mean here. We can then be reasonably sure that positive and negative feedbacks built into the climate system will become more and more evident in their effects on restoration of balance, and we'll see some of this evidence as the process moves along. If things get really out of balance, then we might reach a tipping point, beyond which the system will settle into another quasi-stable state as our next climate pattern. Since we don’t really know what that state will look like, let's just hope that humans can live with it.

And finally, in the last point I made above, I will certainly admit to a criticism of the long-standing environmental movement. We cannot "save the Earth" because we are but dust on the surface, and the Earth will still be here long after humans have passed from sentience, unless we get hit by a very large comet, I suppose. Toxic waste, polluted water, polluted air, nuclear winter, felled forests, dammed rivers, species extinction, greenhouse gases--all of these suggest only that we as humans are getting better at causing injury to ourselves, but the Earth recovers and re-establishes balance in its own way. We can "save the whales" and "ban the nukes" and do all that we can to preserve out own lives, but the planet and its oceans and atmosphere will still do what they can to keep things in balance. If we can't deal with it, we'll go the way of the dinosaurs. Rapid regime shifts and extreme events are some of the many ways that we will recognize these impulse-response couplings in the Earth science system, and we must remain ready, willing, and funded to study these couplings and events and shifts in order to increase our species' resilience and sustainability. Save the humans!

So, on the topic of extremes, here was the list of weather events in recent months that the UN report attributed to global warming:
  1. Twice as many Indian monsoon depressions as normal in the season's first half, leading to catastrophic flooding across South Asia, 500 deaths, the displacement of 10 million people, and the destruction of vast areas of farmland and property.
  2. The first documented cyclone in the Arabian Sea, Cyclone Gonu hit Oman and Iran in early June, killing 50 and affecting 20,000 others.
  3. Heavy rains in China over 6-10 June affected 13.5 million citizens, killing 120 in flooding and landslides.
  4. The wettest May-to-July period for England and Wales ever recorded in more than two centuries of weather record keeping. Intense one-day bursts in June and July caused extensive flooding, killed nine and caused an estimated $6 billion in damages.
  5. Germany recorded its driest April on record, and then saw nearly twice the normal rain for May since record keeping began more than a century ago.
  6. Torrential rains and ferocious winds across Europe in January, leading to the death of 47 and electricity outages affecting thousands.
  7. February floods in Mozambique, the worst in six years, killed 30 and led to the evacuations of 120,000.
  8. Overflowing of the Nile River from heavy and early rainfall in Sudan since the end of June, and the flooding has damaged thousands of homes.
  9. 68 islands and 16 atolls in the Maldives were swamped in May by huge wave swells, up to 14 feet in height.
  10. Uruguay had its worst floods since 1959 in May, affecting 110,000 people and severely damaging crops and buildings.
  11. Southern Europe was affected by two heat waves in June and July, breaking a series of temperature records and spawning dozens of wildfires. Bulgaria recorded a new high temperature of 113 degrees, and other areas experienced temperatures exceeding 104 degrees.
  12. A heat wave during May in western and central Russia broke temperature records, including a 91 degree mark in Moscow that broke a 116-year-old record.
  13. April ranked in many countries across Europe as the warmest ever recorded.

I subscribe to the assessment put forth in the Washington Post article of 4 August 2006: "...it is impossible to attribute any one weather event to climate change..." This is also called doubt, though not to the degree that the AAPG still doubts the sum of scientific evidence for global warming that is already established. My doubt, and maybe that of the article's author, is based on the views that planetary climate is large-scale in both space and time, and that climate changes over time can be best evaluated statistically, without necessarily picking out one or two specific events. The list provided by the UN report is actually a mix of individual or isolated weather events (nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, 12), climate analyses (nos. 1, 5, 11, 13), hydrologic events with no listed attribution (nos. 7, 8, 10), and oceanography (no. 9). Of the climate-related events listed, two are temperature-related, and one of these (no. 11) might be attributed to transient nonlinear feedback in the synoptic weather over Europe, specifically the formation of blocking patterns. Another (no. 13) is simply a restatement of the premise, that warming results in warm weather.

That leaves two recent events (nos. 1 and 5) that we must examine physically in order to demonstrate the impacts, if any, of global warming in the climate system. It is easy enough to suggest that both of these events are signs of an intensified hydrologic cycle, given the extraordinary rainfall totals and flooding that resulted. But what is that "intensification," physically? Basically, the atmosphere is attempting to move energy poleward more quickly, because of greater lateral gradients in temperature. The process experiences greater instability, and breakdown of the synoptic patterns result more frequently, because the development of meridional flows move warm air (the excess energy) poleward more quickly than a quiescent or zonal flow regime. Remember, global warming is supposed to slow the ocean circulations, so the atmosphere must make up for the poleward transport of heat energy that the oceans, which have a much greater heat capacity, no longer provide. The results: more monsoon depressions over the tropical Indian Ocean, which then propagate onto the subcontinent and drop their massive moisture content, and more middle-troposphere lows and fronts over the mid-latitude Atlantic Ocean, which then move with the prevailing flow onto the European continent.

Some of the other weather events may have similar causes and origins, but it is the consistency of these two "events" that is most indicative of steadily intensified forcing from warming patterns at the surface and in the atmosphere. That's the most apparent, and least statistical, sign of "global" warming, and the changes in climate have come so slowly and consistently that we've finally noticed, because we're still just beginning to understand the physical mechanisms of these processes.

07 August 2007

Kurdistan

Primary sources:
8 July 2007: Washington Post
The Next Battle in Iraq? (Op-Ed)
30 July 2007: Washington Post
U.S. says working with Turkey to solve PKK "problem"
30 July 2007: Washington Post
Bush's Turkish Gamble (Op-Ed)
31 July 2007: Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report
The Geopolitics of Turkey
3 August 2007: Scripps Howard News Service
Fast-forwarding to a better story line in the Middle East
4 August 2007: BBC
New Turkish parliament sworn in
6 August 2007: Washington Post
Turkey to Warn Iraq on Rebel Sanctuaries
7 August 2007: BBC
Iraq vows to oust Kurdish rebels
7 August 2007: BBC
Iraq power system 'near collapse'
Blog Sources:
Thomas P.M. Barnett Weblog
5 August 2007: This week's column
6 August 2007: Kurdistan: Bird in the hand or three in the bush?
Enterprise Resilience Management Blog
11 May 2007: Resilience in Kurdistan
14 May 2007: 3 days in Iraq from the Syrian/Turkish border to the Iranian border
16 May 2007: Lessons from the Edge of Globalization...
3 August 2007: Probing the Edges of Globalization
6 August 2007: Lessons from the Edge of Globalization: Part 2, Day 1
Additional sources include Wikipedia and a few specific links given below.

A new Turkish parliament was sworn in this past weekend with twenty "pro-Kurdish" deputies, the first to represent that ethnic fraction of Turkey since 1991. These deputies, from the Democratic Society Party (DTP), have said that they favor reconciliation and a peaceful solution to the decades-old Kurdish separatist conflict, in which the PKK rebels lay claim to approximately the eastern third of the country. This hopeful note from the recent elections in Turkey follows on recent suggestions that the country may be leaning away from its secular political base to embrace Islam, indicated by a strengthened position for the Muslim Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the parliament and that party's primary roles: (1) selection of the new Turkish president, and apparently (2) agree with the Turkish military leadership that "the time has come to move against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish initials, PKK, in its bases in the mountains of northern Iraq" (see 6 August 2007 Washington Post story).

In a column this past weekend by Tom Barnett, one of my favorite authors and a specialist on the strategic future of pretty much the entire world, he offered one possible (and mostly "positive thought") view for the Middle East about year from now (see Scripps Howard News Service, listed above). His vision included the following:
"Meanwhile, roughly 20,000 U.S. troops have shifted to Kurdistan. Following Kirkuk's contested vote to join the Kurdistan Regional Government in late 2007, the Turkish military invades northern Iraq to root out strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers Party insurgency. America submits to the U.N.-mandated regional security dialogue led by super-empowered envoy Tony Blair in exchange for the great powers' acceptance of our bases in Kurdistan, which simultaneously ensures its quasi-independence while purposefully dampening its magnetism for separatist movements in Syria, Turkey and Iran."

I should note here that Mr. Barnett works directly with Stephen DeAngelis at their company, Enterra Solutions. Mr. DeAngelis writes for the Enterprise Resilience Management blog, from which several posts on their effort toward "Development-In-A-Box" application in Iraqi Kurdistan are listed above. For the record, in my own e-mail exchange with Mr. Barnett a couple weeks ago he declined to disclose any details at all on how "Development-In-A-Box" works or what they are doing in Iraq, either in general or specifically related to water and other natural resources. It's proprietary, and sensitive, and that's cool with me--the reader knows now that anything I have to say about it is based entirely on what I can find in Mr. Barnett's hints and Mr. DeAngelis' posts, and in the open-source media of course.

Members of the PKK, a group that goes by other names and has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department, have been fighting for their independence from the Turkish government since about 1983. According to news reports, that conflict has claimed more than 30,000 lives, and members of the PKK have been seeking refuge from Turkish pursuit in northern Iraq. Turkey has been threatening to pursue the PKK insurgents who are hiding in Iraq. Though I'm all against terrorism and its ideologies, I have a couple of problems with this scenario.

First, how in the world will the US military decide to allow independent Turkish incursions across the border into Kurdistan, no matter the purpose? Wouldn't the US military rather say "hold on, we think of them as terrorists too, so to maintain the integrity of our GWOT as well as Iraq's borders, we'll find them for you our way and send them over"? Second, how is the Turkish military going to tell one Kurd from another? I would guess it's not like finding Arab members of al Qaeda hiding out in Pakistan, where they probably stand out like sore thumbs in public, so they stick to their mountain caves. My point here is that the search for PKK among their peaceful, progressive Iraqi brethren must not lead to the indiscriminate detainment of innocent civilians, by the US or its ally Turkey, or the US will have shot itself in yet another foot after all the blowback over Guantanamo, Abu, secret renditions, etc. In the end, it's the US that would allow Turkish incursions and participation in the PKK hunt, not a unilateral decision on Turkey's part, and so the US will take on the majority of the decisions and responsibilities. According to Mr. DeAngelis, Iraqi Kurdistan has moved on to post-conflict reconstruction and development, and both the US military and administration are certainly not going to let an ally go rifling around in what is arguably the most positive outcome of the Iraq War.

Consider also that when the PKK get to Iraq, they're no longer able to do violence against the Turkish government, and so the long-standing US protection of Iraqi Kurdistan offers their only asylum. So finally, we can't expect the PKK to give themselves up on their own. According to Mr. Barnett, the choice is clear: "the Iraqi Kurds must give up the PKK inside their territory." This is where, in Mr. Friedman's terms, the Lexus meets the Olive Tree. Will the Iraqi Kurds give up their Turkish brethren to save themselves? Not if they want to be able to trust and depend on each other later, when it's time to elect a government and build a nation, whatever geographical area that covers. Better to suffer suspicion as a group than death as an individual, right? For the PKK, it will be tough enough to leave behind their homes in Turkey, but they just need to realize that their violence is not leading to any tipping points soon, and there will remain plenty of peaceful Kurds in Turkey who may be able to bring about their desired changes over the long term, hence willful participation by Kurdish parties in the most recent Turkish elections.

Certainly, we need to trust our allies in the Fertile Crescent, among whom we have been able to count (for numerous and widely varied reasons) Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Iraqi Kurds. We can also now count among the allies of America's strategic interests those commercial endeavors, such as Enterra Solutions and its "Development-In-A-Box," that look toward partnership-based sustainable development in the region and not to simple resource (i.e. oil) extraction, the burgeoning industry in private security, and just generally overbilling the feds. However, we can only trust an ally as far as their own national security activities meet our own needs. So now, "the Turkish military invades northern Iraq"? If Mr. Barnett's vision is anything like what may actually play out in that area, then we really need to convince the responsible parties to hold back on all the shooting while we work out some international agreements on the control and distribution of natural resources.

Now, I'm certainly not a policy expert or a foreign affairs specialist or even a strategist, especially on the grand scale that Mr. Barnett claims as home turf, so why do I bring up these issues on a hydrology blog? Because I think a coherent focus on water resources is one way to help shrink the Gap, because American defense and security are deeply invested in the outcome of the Iraq War, because one of my interests is OSINT and "connecting the dots," and because I think I see things happening in and around Kurdistan that seem strange and maybe just a little out of control. Bear with me here...

An independent Iraqi Kurdistan is just one piece of that big ethnic puzzle that is Southwest Asia. Kurds also reside in much of eastern Turkey, northeastern parts of Syria, and along the mountain ranges that form the Turkey-Iran and Iraq-Iran borders. There is a map of ethnic Kurdistan on Wikipedia, if you want to see the full scope of this area we're talking about. In these areas that the Kurds claim as homeland, what can we find to support a recognized independence movement and a nascent government with self-supporting, trade-worthy national infrastructure? Oil of course, and some of the last exploitable forests in the region, and probably some minerals too, but also water. Lots of water, and in strategic places too.

Ethnic Kurdistan is mountainous, and from these mountains come two of the most important rivers in western Asia. Trace the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries from their confluence in southeastern Iraq, and you'll find that much of their watershed area overlaps with ethnic Kurdistan. The Tigris River, the primary water source and sanitation outfall for the city of Baghdad, has its headwaters in the mountains of eastern Turkey. The Tigris is a transboundary river, flowing through Turkey and along the Syrian border and then through Iraq, eventually merging with the Euphrates and then forming the border between Iraq and Iran before flowing into the Persian Gulf. Here's a map of the Tigris-Euphrates watershed area (light area) by Wikipedia contributor Karl Musser, showing the extent of influence for this river system:

In the vicinity of the Tigris headwaters is the brackish Lake Van, from which irrigation canals support one of the largest contiguous agricultural areas in the Middle East. Lake Van, however, is a terminal lake, and may go the way of the Aral Sea if not properly managed for salinity and agricultural runoff contaminants. There are lessons there to be learned from history and analogy, and one hopes that the Kurds may eventually succeed where Turkish state programs have shown little progress.

The Euphrates River is far more contested, however. The Euphrates River headwaters occur farther into the Turkish interior, outside of ethnic Kurdish territory, but flow through much of that territory before meeting the Ataturk Dam and irrigating, by tunnel, the extensive cotton and grain fields of the Harran Plain. Both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are controlled extensively for both irrigation and hydroelectric power in eastern Turkey under the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). Once of the most controversial aspects of the Turkish effort was construction of a dam immediately upstream of the Euphrates' crossing into Syria, in which the river is also extensively controlled and employed for cotton irrigation.

The Euphrates eventually crosses from Syria into Iraq, provides for more irrigation in the southern provinces, and flows through an extensive alluvial plain along which the fabled Tigris-Euphrates salt marshes occur. Around 1994, more than half of the marshes were drained and destroyed by Saddam Hussein's regime in order to exert greater control over the indigenous Ma'daan, or Shi'a Muslim Marsh Arabs, during which time numerous plant and animal species dependent on the brackish ecosystem disappeared entirely.

Ethnic Kurdistan holds in its hands the keys to water security in a large portion of the Middle East. The supplies of water to the people of the region, sanitation, irrigation, power production, and depleted ecosystems all fall within the responsibilities of both Iraqi, and ethnic, Kurds who push for responsibility and independence. While Turkey has made significant progress in infrastructure and in agricultural planning, most areas in Iraq are just beginning their course of post-conflict reconstruction, and must begin to manage their water resources with the end in mind: sustainability.

Iraqi Kurdistan reaches for sustainability in both independence and government, and at the same time must not neglect the sustainability of its most vital natural resource. Its success in international relations with its neighbors, to hold off Turkish military incursions, to assuage the Syrians (and maybe even the Turks) that Kurds in their country need not rise up in a movement for independence, and to deal prosperously with whatever government eventually arises in Baghdad, may be foretold from how the Kurdish people develop one of their most basic necessities, the water on which Kurdistan's people, agriculture, industry, and economy will depend.

04 August 2007

ESA's Earth Observation Missions,
Part 1: Soil Moisture

Primary sources:
9 July 2002: NASA
Pathfinder Missions to Enhance Our Understanding of Earth
16 December 2005: NASA
Hydrosphere State Mission
January 2007: National Academies Press
Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond
16 July 2007: European Space Agency
Extreme weather monitoring boosted by space sensor
30 July 2007: European Space Agency
ESA mission highlighted at remote sensing conference
Additional sources include Wikipedia.

It was in December 2005 (see above) that research scientists at NASA received news that the Hydrosphere State Mission ("Hydros") would not be funded forward into its construction and launch phases. The goal of Hydros was the observation of soil moisture content and freeze/thaw states using active and passive microwave instruments (scatterometer/radar and radiometer, respectively). To be fair, Hydros was an alternate selection for funding in its program, number three of Earth System Science Pathfinder mission selections on a list released in 2002 for which only the top two had been promised funding. With the National Academies' recent "Decadal Survey" of NASA and community Earth Science missions, and its recommendation for funding a mission equivalent to Hydros, it is likely that Hydros will be reincarnated as the "Soil Moisture Active/Passive" (SMAP) mission when funding for such becomes available. Hydros was a well-developed mission concept with extensive community support, and one hopes it will not go away quietly.

In the meantime, the European Space Agency (ESA) has released results of recent observations of soil moisture over sub-Saharan Africa at high spatial resolution (1 km) from ENVISAT, using synthetic aperture radar methods. This is a banner result of the ESA-supported SHARE project (Soil Moisture for Hydrometeorological Applications in the Southern African Development Community Region--how you spell SHARE with that, I don't know). SHARE is now moving out of its pre-operational phase and looking for continuation funding from the African community that may benefit from such detailed datasets, and so the results and impacts discussed in that news release are oriented directly on such a financial campaign. I certainly wish the ESA project, and especially its African partners, the best of fortune and luck.

SAR-based soil moisture retrievals have been around for almost two decades in the US and Canada, based on numerous airborne and satellite-based instruments and methods that have been published in trade journals for almost as long. The problem is, SAR is prone to error due to surface roughness, including vegetation, and it can see only the uppermost layer of the soil column when nothing else is in the way. One can get the general idea of spatial patterns in soil moisture from results like those shown at ESA's website (see sources above) but realistic, ground-truthed values are troublesome. The high resolution that is touted by ESA may be this method's only redeeming quality, and its full calibration and research-to-applications value may only be realized when a mission such as NASA's Hydros/SMAP (with approx. 3 km active resolution and 40 km passive resolution) and its ESA counterpart, the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission, are finally in orbit. While SMOS is scheduled for launch sometime in 2008, Hydros/SMAP has no definitive timeline and still awaits the go-ahead for further mission development.

These active/passive missions will employ different microwave bands from those on SAR missions, and will be able to see somewhat deeper into the soil column (and with less trouble over rough and vegetated surfaces) in order to give more useful soil moisture estimates. With their attendant surface monitoring sites to provide ground-truth calibration, these missions might be used in conjunction with the ENVISAT-type observations to eliminate differences and errors in the higher-resolution products, making them significantly more useful in application to drought and flood forecasting and even irrigation management. In modeling of the land surface, the depth (or layer thickness) of observation makes all the difference when it comes to assimilation and/or calibration, specifically of hydraulic parameters related to the accurate modeling of soil moisture transport, retention and vegetation uptake. The uppermost "skin" layer responds quickly to changes in air temperature, humidity, and precipitation at the surface, while layers farther down in the soil column respond more slowly. Yes, even a couple of centimeters in depth can make a big difference in the accuracy of assimilation and calibration, and thus in the feedback to the atmosphere for coupled modeling efforts.

Note the quote in ESA's news release about early use of the ENVISAT products by Chinese meteorological scientists. China has been investing heavily in resources throughout Africa, especially oil and metals, in order to feed their growing domestic demands. Some in the economic and security community see this (rightly, in my opinion) as Chinese support for development in Africa, which produces positive strategic feedback to China in support for increasing population and industrial demands. Others see China's work in Africa as economic and military competition for the US and the rest of the developed world, another Great Powers struggle that will bring us back to the Cold War. You know what? That's exactly what it is, except now it's dynamic economic investment in Africa instead of an ideological stalemate. It's the best kind of Great Powers competition: who can pour more money and manpower into African science, technology and development the fastest? Will it be the US, the EU, or China? In any case, all parties will benefit, none more so than the African community, and at least there's science in it--hydrology, no less!