Geotimes

From the Editor

Earth Science is embedded within recent national security news stories, if only obscurely for many readers. For example, on Jan. 10, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham notified Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn and the Nevada Legislature that he will recommend to President Bush that the Yucca Mountain site “is scientifically sound and suitable for development as the nation’s long-term geological repository for nuclear waste.” Few sites in our country, or anywhere else for that matter, have experienced such intensity of earth science study in the interest of national security. Yucca Mountain will be our focus next month in the March issue.
 
But this month we swing our focus to the recent events in Afghanistan, which are not so obscure for most readers. The military has been contending with the geological novelty of the terrain and subsurface of Afghanistan as it pursues Taliban and Al Qaeda forces deep into the country’s mountainsides. In this issue we focus on earth science’s role in Afghanistan and in the service of national security — more examples of the diversity of earth science in our lives.
 
In one of our feature articles, “Afghanistan: Geology in a Troubled Land,” USGS geologist Steve Schindler describes the country’s peoples and geologic history with a vivid metaphor: the collisions of cultures and geology (Even the metaphor itself invites readers to use “culture” or “geology” to explore the other.) Schindler briefly introduces the diverse origins of some of the tribal groups we have come to recognize and then turns to the assembling of the region through a long history of plate collisions and suturing. The geologic result is a tortuous array of mountains and valleys underlain by even more complex rocks. The dueling questions have been, “How have the enemy used this terrain to fortify and conceal themselves, and how should the military respond?” vs., “How will a nation be fashioned from what remains?” All these questions involve geologic answers.
 
As an example of the tangible role of earth science in current events, we have also included an interview with Jack Shroder, the University of Nebraska geologist who has studied Afghanistan for decades and has recently become well known because his work there.
 
USGS geologist William Leith continues the national security theme in our second feature, “Military Geology in a Changing World.” With benefit of a brief retrospective that includes familiar geology-related examples such as “hardened” missile silos, Leith speaks of future military applications that will use geologic features and characteristics to “increase survivability.” The range of geologic disciplines required to select, evaluate and enhance favorable geologic features for military purposes seems to include most earth science fields, in one application or another.
 
Rounding out our features in this issue are personal profiles from earth scientists in military- and national security- related careers. The paths they have followed illustrate the utility of earth science knowledge embedded years before during their formal educations. These engaging vignettes are instructive for career planning.
 
A year ago we had no idea that the content of this issue would evolve as it has. In this fact lies a special lesson for earth scientists and those who support their work, whether in the private or public sector. Once a crisis has occurred, be it an invasion or an earthquake, we have to work with the information on hand for there is seldom time or opportunity to gather more. This situation argues for careful consideration of what national and worldwide baseline data we need “to afford” in order to be minimally prepared for future crises.

Just as we now take for granted the enormous utility of topographic maps, the geology that produced them is everywhere at and just below the surface for our use. The challenge, then, is to determine what portions of that “intelligence” need to be documented while they are available — and before we urgently need them.

Believe your compass,
 

Samuel S. Adams, Editor-in-Chief


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