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OSU Professors Give Iraq 'Direction' For the Future

Monday, November 28, 2005

STILLWATER, OKLA. – The road to recovery for Iraq is being mapped with assistance from Oklahoma State University.

Dale Lightfoot, professor and head of the OSU geography department, recently established Geographical Information Science (GIS, GPS, and remote sensing) centers at two Iraqi universities that will enable the new government to map out essential planning needs including city transportation routes, water plant location sites and utility line routes.

"Iraq's infrastructure was so deteriorated because of the sanctions incurred during the Saddam Hussein regime that it had become isolated from many new scientific advances," Lightfoot said. "It's through international collaborative programs like this that the Iraqi people are finally able to open up to the outside world and bring back to Iraq the best the world has developed over the last 20 years."

As a subsidiary for a $5 million OU/OSU/Langston project named Al Sharaka (meaning "The Partnership" in Arabic), Lightfoot led the U.S. government-funded team that established GIS centers at Baghdad University of Technology and at Salahaddin University in northern Iraq. Lightfoot's team refurbished lab space, installed a GPS base station and computers for GIS and image processing, and established state-of-the-art learning and research labs at the centers.

Lightfoot said the centers will allow the government to make sound decisions about the investment of scarce resources for city infrastructure, agriculture, water use, energy, transportation, public safety, environmental protection and marketing purposes. The centers are currently active in research including analysis of the marsh zones in southern Iraq, classification of soils in the Dyala region, as well as environmental mapping, Lightfoot said. Other projects include thermal imaging techniques to study oil refineries and the development of a digital-geotechnical map of Baghdad.

Tom Wikle, OSU professor/A&S associate dean and colleague to Lightfoot, said the Iraqi researchers were eager to collaborate and learn more about GIS technology. "It was like going back in time because they were still using late 1980s technology," Wikle said. "I think this project was the first time many of these researchers had the opportunity to collaborate.  In a sense this project is giving them more than just equipment; it's also giving their scientists the tools to communicate with each other."

Lightfoot said the centers are an example of what can be achieved through international collaboration.

"These centers are part of a real success story, and we will continue strengthening these relationships," he said. "It is an example of international outreach at its finest."
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