because the data appear to be related to national security. Yes, there are certain things that should be classified, but these should be limited and should include only the data that really relate to national security rather than just based on the indiscriminate perception of their importance to national security.

When data have been developed well, and then made available, this can make a huge difference in the lives of people or the economy of a developing country. For example, radar images from space were developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the radar imager flew on the space shuttle for the first time in November 1981. My team applied the new technology to locating ancient water resources in Egypt. The images that were brought back confirmed that radar waves could penetrate through desert sand, because it is fine grained and dry. Because of that, these images gave us a view of the land surface beneath the sand. That was the first time we could actually prove that there were channels of former rivers that are now dry and covered by sand. The radar gave us a map of all of those channels. When my team drew the maps of the channels, we knew that water was moving from one elevation to a lower one. We assumed that we would find groundwater sites, because water collected there in the past. Some of that water would evaporate and some of it would seep through the rock and be locked up as groundwater. That was our speculation, and it made sense to us, geologically and topographically.

Based on these findings, my research team picked a place in the southern part of Egypt and began to talk to the people there, including the Ministry of Agriculture. It took me 13 years to convince the minister to test drill. He finally approved two wells, and there was a great deal of clean water from around 20,000 years ago, where ancient rivers flowed over a sandstone substrate. Sandstone does not have much salt; the water is cleaner and sweeter than that of the Nile River. It comes out of the ground cool and clean, as if it has been refrigerated. As a result of that discovery, there are now 200,000 acres of land that are viable for agriculture. In that location they have now drilled over 1,000 wells, and are producing much of the wheat that is used for bread making in southern Egypt.

This is an example of something that happened when a group of scientists shared and studied data, and it has made a huge difference in the economy and knowledge base of Egypt. I also published an article on a proposed development corridor that is parallel to the Nile River. The data, including topographic maps, geological data, and space images became readily available on the Internet, which made it easy for others to utilize them. Egyptian geologists and geographers began to pick pieces of my proposal to use as research topics.

Similarly, data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) provide very good feedback about the topography of an area. Using topographic data, researchers can see all kinds of places, including former rivers, channels, and more of the potential lakes where water collected in the past. My team did that for the area of Darfur in Sudan. We shared the data with the Ministry of Water of Sudan and the people in Darfur. This information is truly important, because the disaster in Darfur started with conflict over scarce water resources. This new information gave hope to the people of Darfur that they could have more water. Some of the places where there were no wells now have the potential of plentiful water.

In another example, the U.S. government, through the National Academies and the Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF Global), made many scientific journals freely available to all universities in Iraq, and in 2009 the Iraqi government took over the funding responsibility. Computers and other infrastructure have been provided, so that the journals can be easily accessed. After the project began, the publication rate of Iraqi scientists increased significantly, based simply upon the fact that the researchers were able to read the literature and see the data that were available to them. As a result, they were able to figure out what they could contribute. The increase in the publication rate was immediately visible and recognizable.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement