Eyes on Earth Episode 7 – Training Iraqi Scientists
EROS scientists track water availability and crop health around the world to help governments and non-profits manage resources and stave off food shortages. But EROS also teaches international scientists to track those resources themselves. In this episode, we hear about a recent training session at EROS for Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources.
Hult: Hello, everyone. My name is John Hult, and Iím your host for todayís episode of Eyes on Earth, a podcast of the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center. Scientists at EROS use satellite data to monitor land and water resources all around the world. But EROS doesnít just create and share that information. Our scientists also train others from around the world on how to create monitoring systems to match their own countryís needs. A group of visitors from Iraqís Ministry of Water Resources recently arrived at EROS to learn how to do just that. This visit is the start of a 2-year effort to put the expertise needed to generate those tools directly in the hands of the agency. Here with us to talk about that is Saud Amer, the remote sensing and water resources specialist with the USGS whoís leading the effort. Saud, welcome to Eyes on Earth.
Amer: Thank you.
Hult: Tell us how the USGS and EROS came to work with the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources, and what sorts of data have been provided.
Amer: Actually started in 2008. WE had some funds from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and a group of scientists from EROS and also around the USGS offices, we went to Jordan and we started showing them how they can monitor the snow. Iraq has the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Tigris comes from Turkey to Iraq and the Euphrates comes from Turkey to Syria to Iraq, so Iraq is downstream.
Amer: And because of the hydrologic infrastructure that is built upstream, the surface water is getting less and less and less because now it is controlled. Rather than, it used to be, just free flow.
Hult: So, so, the infrastructure. Youíre talking about dams,
Amer: Dams and Reservoirs
Hult: In Turkey and Syria?
Amer: And Syria
Amer: So there are a lot of dams and reservoirs built upstream the Tirgris and Euphrates basins. So the Iraqis have to learn a way to use their water more efficiently.
Amer: So in 2009 we started monitoring, EROS, used the MODIS
Hult: The instrument on the NASA satellite
Amer: Thatís right.
Amer: To map the snow cover. And then from that, the scientists here were able to calculate the snow water equivalent. That means how much water in the snow before even the snow melt.
Hult: And youíre talking about just in Iraq? The surrounding area? The entire surrounding river basin?
Amer: Most of the snow falls on the mountains of Turkey, and it is hard for the Iraqis to know how much snow they have on the ground. So thatís from the satellite. This is one of the benefits to have the satellite there because we can have better life on Earth from space.
Hult: Right. So essentially you were looking at how much snow there was in the mountains. By knowing that, you could kind of tell how much water would be coming downstream later, or could potentially be coming downstream.
Amer: So by knowing how, how, how, how much snow at least give the Iraqis an idea of whether itís a dry year or wet year, and also give them some scientifically-based information that when they negotiate water location with Turkey and Syria, they have good information of whatís going on. That will make it much easier for them to negotiate based on scientifically-based information rather than just ìwe think.î
Amer: So thatís how we started. We have been here at EROS generating these products, which are the snow, the snow-water equivalent, temperature anomalies, rainfall, and also EROS get the data from NOAA reformatted and we give them a six-day forecast. Which has been from what I have been told by the Iraq Ministry of Water, itís a very valuable information for them to manage, and operate their dams and reservoirs.
Hult: And I think you had mentioned yesterday, and correct me if Iím wrong here, I think you had mentioned the importance of this is not just to the Ministry of Water Resources, youíre talking about even the Prime Minister. The very highest levels of government rely on this information.
Amer: You are absolutely right. It is truly. Sometimes I get calls at 2 in the morning like ëthe products are not there.í It is basically addiction. The Minister Ö there have been many ministers of water came and go, but they always rely on this. And the Minister take the information, and they go to the Prime Ministerís office. And the idea here is to bring the Iraqis here so they can learn how to produce these products: Basically technology transfer.
Hult: Iím glad that you brought that up. Obviously, a lot of this information is available now, but is the evapotranspiration data available now? Is that also being generated?
Amer: Itís calculated from remotely-sensed data
Hult: Okay, okay. And evapotranspiration, just for people who might not know, this is evaporation Ö
Amer: So this is evaporation from the soil, transpiration from vegetation. So we call it ET.
Hult: Right. So this is essentially a measure of water efficiency, and this matters because ..
Amer: Many farmers there, they thought that giving more water is better, but more water does not actually just harm the crops, but it reduces the efficiency of your soil because it produce salinity and alkalinity. This is a huge problem to reclaim them.
Hult: So this goes beyond even managing the water resources in terms of release from Ö seven? There are seven dams in Iraq? Major dams?
Hult: It goes beyond deciding when to release water, and it gets to the point of being able to help the farmers in Iraq, the agricultural system in Iraq, to produce better results.
Amer: Basically, it is a management tool. Daily basis, they know what is going on. They can do it on monthly and seasonal basis. So aside from that, then, a group of people will come to USGS to another water science center to update their national water strategy. We will have also two Iraqis coming in collaboration with NMSU, New Mexico State University, to learn the optimization model. So it is a linear equation, but it will have boundaries. So you say ìI have to have this much water for food security, I have to have this much water for agriculture, I have to have this much water for the industrial. This is for the urban. Now, this is, whether our water comes from surface or groundwater, ìwhat would be the best use or uses for that water?î Thatís number one. But number two: Are you really using the best way that you could for your water. That is really important part of this project. So it will be, really, an integrated project.î
Hult: And again, this is a two year, sounds like a two year total process, but the Ministry already has a lot of this data, itís coming from EROS. Why is it important to sort of, I guess, train ourselves out of a job here. Why is it important to train these teams to generate them in house?
Amer: Right, so all the data that we are using for these, itís free data. Itís available through the USGS and NASA. The idea is, the technique on how to get these raw data and produce something out of it. So it is a derived product. So we are really not getting ourselves out of job because our work will continue. Itís always the USGS tradition, we have project that end 10, 20 years ago, and we still have that working relationship. We will continue to pass along to them any updates in the model, any modifications in the that we do. And probably, because our scientists here at EROS continue to do more research, more remotely-sensed data with high spectral resolution is coming, whether from the US or the Europeans, so they will want to include that. So it is an ongoing process, dynamic process, and itís a live process.
Hult: Right, and when weíre talking about Iraq, weíre talking about a country that has seen so much conflict over so many years. Is the goal to sort of help build a scientific infrastructure, a water resource infrastructure so that at one point the country can be a contributor to those conversations?
Amer: To me, everything revolve around water. There is water, there is life. People can live without many things, but they cannot live without water. So bringing water to a conflict zone, it will promote stability, security, and then also develop a livelihood, a better livelihood.
Hult: So in this situation, weíre using science as a sort of peacemaking, or peace-keeping tool?
Hult: Promoting the peace.
Amer: Exactly. And thatís why, I honestly thank so much the State Department. Having them fund this big project, to have the Iraqis given the technology Ö they will be, actually, the elite in this area. This technology is not very common in the neighboring countries. Without the help of the State Department here in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, it would have been extremely hard to accomplish anything.
Hult: Saud, this has been a fascinating conversation. Thanks so much for walking us through it.
Amer: Thanks for having me.
Hult: Thank you, as well, listeners. We hope that you come back for the next episode of Eyes on Earth. This podcast is a product of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Interior.