Geography and Geology
The mapping of Afghanistan
Digitizing Historical Maps
The Center is cataloguing and digitizing hundreds of historical topographic and topical maps of Afghanistan, like the map from 1965 above, with plans to make them readily available to researchers and the general public.
The early stages of the work began in spring 2013 with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Watch this page for further information on how to access to these materials.
Atlas of Afghanistan
The original project to produce a National Atlas of Afghanistan in the 1970s was short-circuited by the Communist coup and Soviet invasion, but has remained alive at UNO for the past three decades among Professor Jack Shroder and his colleagues.
The atlas is now planned for release as an online searchable database, covering hundreds of topics for all provinces and districts across the country.
Check back for more information on the release of the atlas.
Selected works of Jack Shroder
CAS Team Member and UNO Professor Emeritus Jack Shroder is perhaps the world's foremost expert on the geography and geology of Central Asia. He has worked on an Afghanistan atlas and a variety of remote-sensing projects in the area.
Most famously, in the months following September 11, 2001, Dr. Shroder told colleagues that land formations in videos of Osama bin Laden revealed the terrorist's location. His assessment quickly drew worldwide media attention and calls from U.S. intelligence agencies.
To read more about Shroder's work to identify Bin Laden's hideout, read "Remote sensing and GIS as counterterrorism tools in the Afghanistan war: Reality, plus the results of media hyperbole" in The Professional Geographer, Volume 57, November 2005 (available in most university library databases; abstract here).
Following are some of Professor Shroder's most insightful publications:
Forthcoming: Shroder, John F. Jr. 2013, Building Resource Corridors in Afghanistan: A Solution to an Interminable War? Earth, September 2013.
Shroder, J.F., Jr. 2012, Afghanistan: rich resource base and existing environmental despoliation. Environmental Earth Sciences. DOI 10.1007/s12665-012-1638-7.
Jim LaMoreaux, who has been a well-known leader in the Geological Society of America (GSA) for many years, heard Jack Shroder give what is known as a Pardee Coterie dinner speech. Jack’s talk was on Afghanistan resources and the environment, while Jack was being looked over for possible induction as a member of the Board of Trustees of the GSA Foundation. At the end of the talk, Dr. LaMoreaux asked Jack for a publication on the topic. The main idea is the information on the rich resources of the country that Jack has been talking and writing about for four decades is finally being looked at seriously by many foreign countries and multi-national companies. The way this will play out for Afghanistan is unknown but may not be good because too many people will try to take advantage of the situation and take bribes for themselves, or will attempt to spoil attempts at mineral extraction to ruin things for the Karzai government, or will further despoil an already woeful environmental situation. Jack’s paper in Environmental Earth Sciences gives all the details. Abstract here.
Sarikaya, M.A., M.P. Bishop, J.F. Shroder, J.A. Olsenholler, 2012. Space-based observations of eastern Hindu Kush glaciers between 1976 and 2007, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Remote Sensing Letters, 3(1): 77-84. DOI: 10.1080/01431161.2010.536181
This paper was done by post-doc researcher Sarikaya on some 52 glaciers in the eastern Hindu Kush on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a part of the GLIMS Project. About 76 percent of the glaciers were seen to be retreating, which has serious implications for meltwater downstream in later years as the overall mass of water stored as ice diminishes. Abstract here.
Ali, S., J.F. Shroder, Jr., 2011. Afghanistan’s mineral fortune: Multinational influence and development in a post-war economy. Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security, James Jeffords Center for Policy Research, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT; 24 pages.
Saleem Ali, who teaches at the University of Vermont (UVM) became a friend of Jack Shroder’s many years ago because of their mutual interest in southwest Asia, and especially in issues dealing with resources and environmental despoliation. Saleem asked Jack if he were interested in a joint publication to get out some essential thinking if Afghanistan was ever to wrest itself out from under a seemingly oppressive weight of violence, corruption, and rapacious environmental exploitation. The James Jeffords Center for Policy Research at UVM offered a unique opportunity for an exposition of these ideas. Full text here.
Shroder, J.F., Jr., B. Weihs, and M. Schettler, 2011. Mass movement in northeast Afghanistan. Journal of Physics and Chemistry of the Earth; 36:1267-1286; doi:10.1016/j.pce.2011.03.003
In the course of some systematic searches of the topography of Afghanistan on Google Earth™ for any unusual features, Jack Shroder began to locate more and more different kinds of landslides in the north and east of the country. These mass movements grouped into two main kinds; huge masses of strong bedrock many kilometers in extent that had slipped or flowed downhill to bury glaciers of cover vast areas of steep mountain terrain in loose rock rubble and enormous boulders. Parallel investigations by geologists from the US Geological Survey showed that this part of Badakhshan, Afghanistan, has had more magnitude 7 and 8 earthquakes over the past 200 years than any other place on Planet Earth. The result is a highly unsafe environment where development of the works of humans must be built with great care lest they be destroyed in the next large seismic event. Abstract here.
Shroder, J.F., Schettler, M.J., Weihs, B.J., 2011. Loess failure in northeast Afghanistan. Journal of Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 36:1287-1293;doi:10.1016/j.pce.2011.03.001
Much of the crystalline bedrock of the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan is overlain by thick deposits of wind-blown dust, known as ‘loess’ in various European languages. This loessic dust has accumulated over the millennia from the annual dust storms borne on the intense winds coming south from the deserts of central Asia. Loess has a very delicate matrix, or so-called, ‘card-house structure’ that collapses very easily when wetted or loaded with too much extraneous weight. The result is extensive collapse of loess ground all over the north and east of Afghanistan that Jack Shroder and his students were able to study for this report.Abstract here.
Hagen, E., J.F. Shroder, Jr., X.X. Lu, J.F. Teufert, 2010. Reverse engineered flood hazard mapping in Afghanistan: A parsimonious flood map model for developing countries. Quaternary International 226 (1-2): 82-91.
In 2009, Emlyn Hagen, a graduate student from Belgium who was working for NATO in Brussels contacted Jack Shroder about possible mapping of flood hazards in Afghanistan that would be of use to the US and NATO military coalition that was attempting to defend the war-torn nation from Taliban bandits. Together with Professor Michael Bishop and Jeff Olsenholler from Geography-Geology, the team was able to utilize cellular automata in a computer that was programmed to simulate flooding through a high-resolution data set of topography that is not available to civilians in order to establish the most likely routes for flooding. The results will be of great use to help protect life and property in the country for the foreseeable future. Full text here.
Shroder, J.F.,Jr. B.J. Weihs, 2010. Geomorphology of the Lake Shewa landslide dam, Badakshan, Afghanistan, using remote sensing data. Geografiska Annaler 92A (4): 471-486.
During research on earthquake hazards in Afghanistan a few years ago, Jack Shroder was led to a new paper by US Geological Survey geologists that showed large earthquake-producing faults. One of these crossing fault systems in northern Badakshan had a huge landslide of big rocks across it, which showed a likely genetic relation. Subsequent investigation by Jack and his graduate student demonstrated that this is the second biggest landslide dam in the world, with the first being on a river in nearby Tajikistan. Mother Nature generally does not make well-engineered dam structures that will not fail subsequently and produce colossal floods when the impounded lake suddenly is released to course downstream. In fact both these dams leak a great deal now into the Amu Darya river system between the two countries, and there are many worries about progressive or abrupt failure that would lead to great loss of life downstream were this to happen. Full text here.
Shroder, J.F., Jr. and M.P. Bishop, 2010, Glaciers of Afghanistan. In: Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World - Asia, eds. R.S. Williams, Jr. and J.G. Ferrigno, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386-F3: 167-199.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s when Jack Shroder was starting to do a great deal of field work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, friends at the US Geological Survey (USGS) asked that is he was going to be on the ground there anyway, would he mind looking into the fate of many of the small glaciers that were known from the Hindu Kush mountains there. The meltwater from many of these glaciers in late summer and early fall is vital to later crops, with the result that the USGS wanted a professional paper on the topic, especially as they also wanted to tout the great use of all the new satellite imagery that would help in this analysis. Even though Jack turned this paper in to the USGS in the early 1980s various federal budget cuts kept the paper from being published for three decades until 2010 when it was finally judged important enough to get the information out at long last. A companion volume on Pakistan glaciers received the same treatment. Full text here.
Shroder, J.F., Jr., 2009. Saving Afghanistan: Redevelopment one resource at a time. Earth, 54(7): 38-47.
Earth magazine, a production by the American Geological Institute (AGI) in Washington, DC, used to be called Geotimes, but by whatever name the organization has repeatedly asked for material on Afghanistan by Jack Shroder. This article is a semi-popular examination of the rich resources of Afghanistan, which also gives a brief account of the first formation of the Afghanistan Studies Center at UNO, as well as pictures and discussion relating to the Afghanistan Immersion training for US military that had been underway at UNO for some time already when this article was published. The article also provides an illustration of the otherwise classified NATO flood mapping of Afghanistan that members of the CAS staff did with Emlyn Hagen (see Hagen et al., 2010, above for a discussion of this research). Full text here.
Haritashya,U.K., M. P. Bishop, J. F. Shroder, A. B.G. Bush, H. N. N. Bulley, 2009. Space-Based Assessment of Glacier Fluctuations in the Wakhan Pamir, Afghanistan. Climatic Change 94: 5-18.
In the USGS- and NASA-funded GLIMS (Global Land Ice Measurements from Space) Project that is being run by Michael Bishop and Jack Shroder, post-doctoral scholars, Umesh Haritashya from India, and Henry Bulley from Ghana were hired to assess glaciers for the GLIMS Regional Center for Southwest Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan) at UNO. This paper was one of the early looks by GLIMS at the declining water resources in extreme northeastern Afghanistan, which was in sharp contrast to the expansions of snow and ice noted by the same team in the nearby Pakistan Karakoram Himalaya. Full text here.
Shroder, J., 2008. Remote sensing and GIS as counterterrorism tools for homeland security: The case of Afghanistan. In D .Z. Sui (editor) Geospatial Technologies and Homeland Security, Springer Science & Business Media B.V., 11-33.
Several years previously, Professor Daniel Sui at Texas A&M University had asked Jack Shroder for a keynote paper on Afghanistan that could lead off a volume that was being planned to exemplify new thinking on homeland security after the 9/11 catastrophe. Dr. Shroder turned in an overly large chapter that Editor Sui urged him to cut in half, with the second half (Geojournal below) to be carried as a journal article. The paper above, which was published in the homeland security volume, showed a good deal of the early decades of UNO/Afghanistan involvement, especially while UNO personnel effectively became the Afghanistan Ministry of Education in exile in Peshawar, Pakistan, during the 1980s when the Soviet-Afghan war was unfolding. Abstract here.
Shroder, J., 2007. Afghanistan’s development and functionality: Renewing a collapsed state. Geojournal, 70: 91-107.
As noted above, this journal article was originally written as a companion piece to show how Afghanistan’s own resources could be used to rebuild the country. Full text here.
Shroder, J.F., Jr., Bishop, M.P., Bulley, H.N.N., Haritashya, U.K., Olsenholler, J., 2007. Global land ice monitoring from space (GLIMS) project regional center for Southwest Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan). In: Baudo,R., Tartari, G., Vuillermoz, E.(editors), Shroder, J.F., Jr. (series editor), 2007. Mountains, Witnesses of Global Changes: Research in the Himlaya and Karakoram. Under the auspices of SHARE-Asia (Stations at High Altitude for Research on the Environment in Asia. Developments in Earth Surface Processes 10, Elsevier.
The government of Italy asked Jack Shroder to present his material on the GLIMS Project which was looking at ice and snow in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan and the western Himalaya of Pakistan. The material was published in the Elsevier volume edited by Professor Shroder that is noted above. The slides themselves were presented by invitation to the Chinese Academy of Sciences to their MAIRS (Monsoon Asia Integrated Research Studies) Project in Beijing the following year.Presentation slides here.
Shroder, J., 2005. Remote sensing and GIS as counterterrorism tools in the Afghanistan War: Reality plus the results of media hyperbole. Professional Geographer, 57:592- 597.
Jack Shroder was asked by the US government to assist in the search for Osama bin Laden on the strength of the fact that the rocks visible in bin Laden’s first video in October 2001 were recognized by Dr. Shroder as being near a place that was later identified as Tora Bora. The high media exposure of Dr. Shroder after this on all the major networks led to considerable media pressure to tell the whole story, but Professor Shroder resisted until an article in the Professional Geographer by Richard Beck four years later gave some misinformation that needed correcting. This paper sets the record straight and also shows the results of some of the early bounty hunters who were looking for bin Laden as well. Abstract here.