Vieux et Nouvelle

Leaving the train station in Benguerir I searched for a taxi. There were four or so vehicles lined up, most small blue cars and one donkey-drawn buggy. I caught one of the blue taxi cabs to UniversitĂ© King Mohammed VI Polytechnique a sleek, start-up institution. Paid for by largely by Morocco’s national phosphate mining company and endorsed with the current king’s name, it is Morocco’s newest university.

Campus at UMVIP

The university is strongly rooted in the earth and environmental sciences, with all that entails. The architecture has modern forms that provide ample of shade, and pathways for wind to flow. This design facilitates passive cooling- an energy efficient necessity in Morocco many months of the year. The university has classrooms, labs, a new media center for people to record online classes, and a comfortable library designed for the modern era (less for books, more space to comfortably read and work on a laptop). The grounds are lined with olive trees and there is lots of construction. It is growing quickly.

C’est moi.

I met with scientists in the university’s remote sensing group – which looks at data from satellites, airplanes and drones (Morocco has a few of its own satellites, and data from many of the American and European civilian satellites are publicly available.) The group was substantial – consisting of about a dozen people- roughly three quarters post-docs and a quarter faculty. Many of these researchers were studying water resources- snow in Morocco’s mountains, its rivers, and underground. Water is as essential, and precious, in Morocco as it is in the American southwest.  

The university has an experimental farm and is studying solar power. Research into phosphate mining, and the use of phosphate minerals are also in KMVIP’s research dossier.

Donkey and buggy in Benguirir

Leaving campus, I took a blue taxi through Benguerir. I passed modern apartment buildings, old stores, cars of all ages, and more horse- and donkey- drawn carriages. (And not the kitschy-French Quarter kind.) This mix of modern and ancient is readily apparent here in Morocco. My neighborhood in Rabat has a sleek and modern tram, and the streets are swept clean with long palm fronds. You can take the bullet train to Tangier and walk through a massive open-air fish market in a building that dates back to the 19th century, if not much earlier. I’ve taken countless photos of Rabat’s 1000 C.E. kasbah and Hassan Tower with my 2018 C.E. smartphone.

But lest I sound too much like a guidebook, this mix of old and new is common across the world- it might just be more noticeable in Morocco. New Orleans is cultivating its digital and biotechnology industries and is struggling to maintain an antiquated pumping system. In October, Silicon Valley based- Google announced an advancement in quantum computing, harnessing the seemingly bizarre properties of certain subatomic particles to be in multiple places simultaneously. The next week, nearby places in California turned off the power to almost 2 million people to reduce forest fires accelerated by global warming.

Near the train station in Benguirir.

Combining of old and new technologies are something we find frequently in the water management world. Modern water management structures are often designed using highly complex computer models that simulate and predict the flow of water. These models often predict the flow of water for 50 or 100 years, and integrate complex structures of the flow, climate changes, land movements, and storms. The water management structures themselves often consist of a wall or gate made with earth, concrete and steel.

Rabat’s Kashbah

As I look to the second half of my time here in Morocco, this mix of old and new will be on my mind. I plan to visit Jordan in February to meet with scientists about the emerging problem of climate change. During the visit, I’ll probably take a day trip to visit the ancient Roman city of Petra. Part of my own research in Morocco involves merging decades-old data sets of water level – likely recorded with a float and wire- with modern satellite records.

As I look to the second half of my time here in Morocco, this mix of old and new will be on my mind. I plan to visit Jordan in February to meet with scientists about the emerging problem of climate change. During the visit, I’ll probably take a day trip to visit the ancient Roman city of Petra. Part of my own research in Morocco involves merging decades-old data sets of water level – likely recorded with a float and wire- with modern satellite records. When I return to Louisiana, I look forward to rejoining a community of numerical modelers, real-time weather enthusiasts, geophysical surveyors, earth movers, writers, and community activists who are asked a simple question about our landscape. Will we flood?

The Morganza to the Gulf Levee in Louisiana, a product of earth, steel.

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