Why were we working here? Because the San Pedro River crosses the international frontier and hosts one of four major North American migratory bird flyways. In fact, the American side has been made into the San Pedro National Riparian Area to preserve this flyway from ever-increasing demands on groundwater. As part of my work, I arranged for a Canadian aircraft to fly a powerful electromagnetic surveying system over the San Pedro Basin. We covered about 1,000 square kilometers (~400 square miles) on the American side alone, and then used other ground-based geophysical methods to map the water on the Mexican side. I could "see" where the groundwater lay down to 400 meters (~1,200 feet) depths, and could show how it influenced and controlled the surface water in the San Pedro River flowing above it. If the river was ever allowed to dry up because of excessive withdrawal of groundwater in this desert area, then this zone of incredible biodiversity (15 species of hummingbirds have been seen in the Huachuca Mountains alone) would disappear forever.
Why were we working here? In pre-Chavez days, the US Geological Survey was asked to send a resident team - a scientific mission that I headed - to map the southern half of the country and help assess the mineral resources there. Venezuela was already endowed with one of the largest hydrocarbon resources in the western hemisphere, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the sweet crude will not last forever (the production decline has been accelerating since Hugo Chavez took power and stopped maintaining the infrastructure). When we arrived we understood the problem: the southern half of Venezuela at the time was nearly completely covered by jungle - the northern tier of the great Amazonas forest - and was nearly inaccessible except by helicopter and dugout canoe. There were no maps - and only one road on the eastern edge. In three years we produced the first complete digital base map and the first geologic map of the area, along with an astounding mineral resource assessment. If Venezuela was blessed with vast hydrocarbon resources, then its hard mineral wealth - gold and titanium and diamonds and Rare-Earth Elements - dwarfed even that. The terrible downside: uncontrolled "artisanal" miners have rapidly destroyed vast stretches of ancient forest, leaving holes of "agua negra" - still dark water that now breeds trillions of mosquitoes and now hosts truly dangerous, resistant-to-everything Falciparum Plasmodium - cerebral malaria.I was the USGS mission chief there, and to this day worry that I somehow contributed to this environmental destruction. The truth is that the government - probably no government - can control artisanal miners searching for gold and diamonds in a jungle.
Why were we there? The US Geological Survey has sent scientist to visit and learn, periodically. However, I have been there many times simply because my oldest daughter and her husband are university professors in Sydney, and two grandsons come with the package.
Why were we there? In 1934 King Abdul-Aziz, who united the peninsula and founded Saudi Arabia, invited a US Geological Survey hydrologist named Glen Brown to help them find additional water resources for his parched desert kingdom. For 60 years there was a USGS office in Jeddah, located on the Red Sea, and we mapped the geology and mineral resources of the western and northern parts of the country at the request of its government. In 1996 this science mission became the Saudi Geological Survey, modeled after the USGS. For four years I was the USGS deputy mission chief there.