Australian expertise helps resurrect Iraq's ancient marshlands

Australian expertise has played a major role in the new international effort to assess and remediate Iraq's once magnificent Mesopotamian marshlands, which were drained and burned under Saddam Hussein's regime in one of the world's worst environmental tragedies.

With the fall of the regime, glimmers of hope are emerging after scientists recently entered the marshes for the first time in 20 years.

CSIRO's Dr Rob Fitzpatrick was contracted by the consultancy company Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), under the USAID Marshlands Restoration Program, to lead a ground-breaking soil science expedition to Iraq in February this year.

The trip was a revelation for Dr Fitzpatrick. He explored a landscape unknown to soil science. "We ended up finding a whole range of new minerals, new processes going on in the system quite seriously I'm overwhelmed by it all," Dr Fitzpatrick says.

"New criteria, based on properties defined in this study, will need to be submitted to the international bodies. We have discovered new soil types."

Dr Fitzpatrick is ecstatic about what he has discovered and what can be done to help the local people. With his team, he set out to establish the limitations of soil and water resources to agricultural production in both drained and re-flooded areas.

This information was to be used to develop a set of practical indicators to help the local people interpret signs of soil and water degradation, and to direct efforts to local projects with the best chance of success.

"We have developed a system farmers can use to recognise the various soil types that can be used to grow crops and which ones to avoid," Dr Fitzpatrick says.

His team is now preparing a series of papers for major international journals and conferences to communicate the impact of their findings.

"It was a magical experience," Dr Fitzpatrick says. "The potential to do a lot more really good science and work over there

Contact: Clare Peddie, CSIRO Land and Water,
CSIRO Australia

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