Students learn by studying geology of war
By Evelyn Boswell, Montana State University-Bozeman Research Office
BOZEMAN - Want to know where soldiers will be fighting in the future?
Think water, says David Mogk, a geology professor at Montana State University-Bozeman.
"Water is going to be probably the number one issue in the coming century, quantity of water and quality of water," Mogk predicted "You can't live without it. It's probably even more important than oil."
Mogk and his Geology 102 students spent the first few months of this year analyzing the geological factors that cause and influence war and seeing how war affects geology. As Mogk reflected on their findings, he said the demand for water and the potential for hostilities will increase as populations grow. As a result, one potential hot spot will be between Israel and its neighbors as they seek access to the Jordan River.
Another flash point may be over the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Turkey. Turkey has already built dams on the rivers which could restrict the flow of water into northern Iraq. Canada and the United States won't necessarily fight, but Mogk sees a potential conflict over the Columbia River. The same is true between the United States and Mexico regarding the Colorado River.
In the meantime, people will continue fighting over oil.
"The Middle East is floating on oil, and it has been the source of over 50 years of conflict and will continue to be so," Mogk said. "Whether it's oil or strategic metals or water, all of those things are important for our way of life. People will go to great lengths to control it."
Geological factors have long contributed to the cause and outcome of wars, Mogk said. India and Pakistan, for example, have been fighting over strategic land positions in the Kashmir region for "years and years." Hannibal Barca had to surmount the Alps on his way to invade Italy.
"It was the control of resources or certain strategic land that in many ways contributed to war," Mogk said. "In addition, war in many regions has had long-lasting environmental consequences."
One example of the geological legacy of war is Agent Orange and the defoliation it caused in Vietnam, he added.
Mogk and his students started examining the relationship between war and geology as the United States was contemplating sending troops into Iraq. The students then spent the next few months researching historic and recent conflicts. In April, they shared their findings with the public during a poster session at MSU's Strand Union Building.
Mogk will discuss the course in November at the 115th annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. As part of MSU's core curriculum, it's offered every spring and always focuses on some aspect of environmental geology. It always includes a service-learning component or outreach activity. Mogk and professor Bill Locke teach the course in alternate years.
"They tend to be Montana-related," Locke said of the course topics. "It ties people in and lets them deal with groups of people who might be interested."
One former class focused on metal mining in Montana. Other students have looked at earthquakes and flood hazards in the state.
© 2003 The Geological Society of America