Editor’s message: Current state of hydrogeology education in Iran and the major shortfalls

Hydrogeology Journal, Mar 2009

Gholam A. Kazemi

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Editor’s message: Current state of hydrogeology education in Iran and the major shortfalls

Hydrogeology Journal Editor's message: Current state of hydrogeology education in Iran and the major shortfalls Gholam A. Kazemi The classical education of 'Hydrogeology' in Iran does not trace back to long ago, despite the notion that the invention of the qanat, the oldest yet scientifically and ecologically sound groundwater abstraction system, is credited to Ancient Persia and despite the fact that Iran depends on groundwater for more than 50% of its water needs. Currently, there are seven governmental universities and one private university that offer MSc programs in hydrogeology; three of these offer courses leading to PhD degrees. Shiraz University, the first institution to provide a hydrogeology course in Iran, commenced its Masters program only 20 years ago in 1988. A PhD program in hydrogeology was founded by the same university, but 10 years later in 1998. However, before the 1979 Iranian Revolution, there were scattered institutions which used to run MSc programs in hydrogeology but not on a sizeable routine basis. Institutions currently involved in hydrogeology education include, in the order of starting date of the program, Shiraz University (Shiraz), Shahid Chamran University (Ahvaz), Shahid Beheshti University (Tehran), University of Tabriz (Tabriz), University of Sistan and Baluchestan (Zahedan), Shahrood University of Technology (Shahrood) and Tarbiat Moalem University in Tehran. The private university, namely Islamic Azad University offers an MSc in hydrogeology at its Tehran branch of Science and Research. Out of these, Shiraz, Shahid Beheshti and very recently Tabriz University offer PhD programs. Depending on the human capacity and facilities available, Iran; Education - every year or every two years, these universities admit up to three PhD students each. Annual intake of MSc students is limited to fewer than 10 for each university. The spatial distribution of these institutions in the north, south, east and west of the country is uniform, enabling universities to cover all parts of the country in terms of hydrogeology research and education. It is estimated that some 500 hydrogeologists with MSc degrees and about 10 hydrogeologists with PhD degrees have graduated from all the above intuitions during the last two decades. It has to be pointed out that the above data are pertinent to hydrogeologists, i.e. graduates with background in geology who completed their studies at geology, geosciences or earth sciences departments. MSc programs in groundwater in civil engineering, irrigation engineering or water engineering departments are treated differently and are not discussed here. Subjects taught at these departments often are similar to hydrogeology subjects; a good discussion in this regard is the paper by Weissmann (2006) . Geology is a less important subject in high school in Iran. It is taught for only two hours per week, and during the last two years only, to students who choose the experimental sciences field (There are four fields of study in high school: experimental sciences, mathematics and physics, humanities, and arts.) In addition, the quality of performance in the subject of geology has little impact for high school graduates who decide to continue their studies towards higher education in universities. Moreover, because of the physical harshness of this field of study, for a period of time there was a ban on girls entering undergraduate geology courses, although the ban has now been lifted. One more disappointing fact is that at the universities, the curriculum of undergraduate studies in geology involves only two subjects of hydrogeology and hydrogeochemistry, with the latter even being an elective subject. Despite this dire picture of geology, the situation for hydrogeology in graduate and postgraduate programs is bright. Among all sub-disciplines of geology, namely sedimentlogy and sedimentary rocks, paleontology and stratigraphy, environmental geology, petroleum geology, tectonics and structural geology, economic geology, petrology, engineering geology, hydrogeology, and geophysics, the last three are the most preferred ones by geology students that decide to pursue graduate and part of the country, groundwater is the sole source of postgraduate studies. This is mainly due to a better job water for domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes. market and the nature of these disciplines. These fields So, one can easily appreciate the vital importance and incline toward physics, chemistry and mathematics, while the role of groundwater resources for the well being the other fields of geology require a good memory. One and sustainable development of the country. Therefore, would expect to see petroleum geology as the main all capacities should be employed, all expertise should favorite among geology graduates in Iran. However, this is be explored, and all avenues must be searched to not the case mainly due to the very limited number (1–3) optimally manage such resources especially as we enter of universities that offer this course so the chance of the twenty-first century, the century during which ‘wars admission is very low and also due to the fact that will be fought over water’ (Serageldin 1995) petroleum companies employ a range of graduates which For proper management of any groundwater resource, often can equally carry the duties of petroleum geologists. information, data and skills are required. To acquire the These include paleontologists, sedimentologists, structural most effective and the most useful data concerning one geologists and geochemists. region’s groundwater resources, laboratory facilities and It takes about 2.5–3 years to complete the hydro- up to date field sampling equipment are needed. Unfortugeology program in universities in Iran, with minimum of nately, isotope hydrology and isotope hydrogeology data, 2 and maximum of 3 years. This duration is usually which are the most accurate and the most effective piece equally divided between coursework and research. Com- of scientific evidence, are virtually totally absent from pulsory subjects included in the curricula of hydrogeology hydrogeological research in Iran. In universities and programs consist of advanced hydrogeology, advanced research institutions, there are no mass spectrometers with hydrology, tracers, groundwater abstraction, groundwater the minimum capability to measure any of the common, modeling, and groundwater hydraulics. In addition to the now routine, environmental tracers such as 2H, 18O, 15N, compulsory subjects, the students must at least enroll for 13C, 14C and 3H; let alone more advanced spectrometers four elective subjects. The elective subjects are widely which can measure strontium, chloride or iodine tracers. ranging and include, among others, artificial recharge and For any single one of these isotopes, water samples must subsurface dams, groundwater in geotechnical issues, be sent to foreign laboratories which require extensive karst geomorphology, applied hydrology, fundamental of administration, time and money, and yet the results are of hydraulics and Quaternary geology. With the exception of less precision due to the time elapsed since sampling and advanced hydrogeology and groundwater hydraulics, due to the storage requirements of the samples, which are which are four hours per week duration throughout the often not fully met. The teaching curricula of both MSc semester, all the other elective and compulsory subjects and PhD programs include one tracer subject which are two hours per week in duration. More than 80% of the comprises environmental as well as applied tracers. How above subjects are officially designated as ‘theory’, with can a university professor teach such subjects with only a couple of them having a laboratory section. reasonable quality while he/she has no access to a mass However, field trips and excursions are an integral part spectrometer? Is there not a necessity to demonstrate these of most of them, unofficially. In terms of research topics, instruments to students? To numerate this argument, one out of 94 MSc theses written at Shiraz University during has to look at the content of the papers presented at the the last 20 years, 60% dealt with karst hydrogeology, 20% last four national/regional Iranian conferences on water hydrogeochemistry, 10% general hydrogeology, 7% mod- resources and groundwater. Out of 988 papers presented at eling, and 3% surface hydrology (E. Raeisi, Shiraz these forums, there is only one article that involves isotope University, personal communication, December 2008). measurements, while 40% of these papers deal with Interest in karst hydrogeology at Shiraz University is hydrogeochemistry, groundwater quality and groundwater mainly due to the closeness of extensive karstified and contamination, which clearly points to the weight of carbonate aquifers and high discharge karstic springs. At chemical hydrogeology in groundwater research in Iran. the other universities, less weight is given to karst The situation with regard to MSc theses is the same. Very hydrogeology, while hydrogeochemistry, environmental rarely does an MSc thesis include some measurement of and groundwater quality issues are more on the agenda. isotopes. To finalize this argument, the author points to his In addition to presenting the above statistics, this experience in June 2008, in carrying water samples for article points to two deficiencies in the current state of isotopic analysis to Hokkaido University, Japan. This education in hydrogeology in Iran that have affected the involved, among other troubles, complicated Customs quality of research and teaching in this field. These are declaration procedures, limitation in taking samples into the lack of laboratory facilities for isotope analysis and the aircraft and lengthy analysis time. At the end of this the lack of effective international collaboration. Of argument, the author appreciates the disappointing reality course some other shortfalls exist but these are the that isotope analyses are not routine worldwide anyway. serious ones. At the onset of this article, it was pointed However, the difference with Iran is that groundwater may out that Iran, with an annual average rainfall of circa not be as equally important for countries with similar 250 mm, relies heavily on groundwater resources. shortfalls. Furthermore, these countries may be able to Furthermore, in some regions, and indeed in a large access the facilities of their neighboring countries easier. International collaborative research is needed to exchange ideas, to learn from others and to import and transfer both technology and expertise. These are required to manage any natural resource optimally. Due to political and some other restrictions, such types of collaborative research between Iranian and foreign scientists are minimal. The author has not come across any systematic sustained inter-country hydrogeology research in Iran. As an example, and to appreciate the consequences of such a situation, one has to look at the number of Iranians who are a member of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) and compare it with neighboring Turkey whose population is the same, yet posses more surface water. As of December 2008, membership amounts to 7 for Iran and 19 for Turkey. Russia has the same number of IAH members as Turkey. The other neighboring countries of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have low numbers of IAH members, similar to Iran, but Turkey is the right country to compare. One other example is that the 5th World Water Forum will be held in March 2009 in Turkey, but such a huge event or similar ones are unlikely to be held in Iran. At present, the topics that need international expertise include, among others, aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), bioremediation and other forms of remediation of contaminated aquifers, recharge estimation techniques using isotopes, submarine groundwaters and submarine springs, and waste disposal and its impacts on groundwater resources, and hydrogeochemical models. Note that Professor Ezzat Raeisi from Shiraz University is an icon among the Iranian hydrogeologists. He is the founder of both MSc and PhD programs in this field and is respected by all hydrogeologists, whether in universities, in governmental departments or in private companies. Virtually all current Iranian hydrogeologists, with the exception of few who completed their higher education in foreign countries, have been Prof. Raeisi’s student at one time or another. Acknowledgements The review and comments by HJ Managing Editor, Prof. Schafmeister and editorial revisions by Ms. Duncan of the IAH have helped to improve this article considerably. Serageldin I ( 1995 ) If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water . Interview with Newsweek , August 1995 Issue Weissmann GS ( 2006 ) Hydrogeology: teaching groundwater hydrology outside the engineering box . Geol Soc Am Abstr Progr 38 ( 7 ): 428


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Gholam A. Kazemi. Editor’s message: Current state of hydrogeology education in Iran and the major shortfalls, Hydrogeology Journal, 2009, 759-761, DOI: 10.1007/s10040-009-0454-y