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Contribution of the “Institut Scientifique Chérifien” to the development of geoscientific research in Northwest Africa since its creation in 1914

DOI: 10.5194/hgss-4-73-2013

Medina, F. (2013). "Contribution of the “Institut Scientifique Chérifien” to the development of geoscientific research in Northwest Africa since its creation in 1914." History of Geo- and Space Sciences, 4(2), 73–82.

p.73: The contribution of the “Institut Scientifique Chérifien”, the oldest scientific research centre in Morocco, is reviewed since its creation almost a century ago. Planned in 1914 by the French protectorate of Morocco, this institute has played, since its effective creation in 1920, an important role in the development of several geosciences in North Africa, such as meteorology and climatology, geophysics (gravimetry, magnetism and especially seismology), geomorphology, geology and oceanography. After the independence of Morocco in 1955, several activities, such as meteorology, were transferred elsewhere, but others, such as seismology and magnetism, remained important elements of the centre until recent years. In addition to the research activities, its observatories and libraries that were built during the early years are unique in Northwest Africa. -- Highlighted jul 6, 2014

p.73: This paper presents the 100 yr long contribution of the “Institut Scientifique Chérifien” to the progress of geosciences in Morocco, and more generally, to the international scientific body of knowledge, with a special emphasis on the early years from its creation to the 1980s. However, only the major stages of the institution’s history will be retraced, with a few references to the technical advances, which are beyond the scope of the paper. -- Highlighted jul 6, 2014

p.74: Summarizing, among the several “preliminary” – often secret – explorations at the end of the 19th and the dawn of the 20th centuries, the strictly geological campaigns were those of Thomson in 1889 (Travels in the Atlas and Southern Morocco, London), Brives in 1905 (Contribution à l’étude géologique de l’Atlas marocain), and especially Gentil (1909, 1912) whose observations were the most precise and widespread as he dared to explore the dangerous tribal territories which were not controlled by theMoroccan central government, in particular the Atlas Mountains. -- Highlighted jul 6, 2014

p.74: After the official creation, geological sciences were restricted to a small, though active, department (Service) successively under the responsibility of F. A. Rolland (1922–1924), Louis Gentil (1924–1925) until his death, and Jean Bourcart afterwards. The main reason for said restrictions is that the exploration of the Moroccan mineral resources and mapping was early assigned to much more powerful institutions such as the “Service Géologique du Maroc” (1921) whose director was Georges Marçais (who became director of the ISC in 1942), the “Office Chérifien des Phosphates” (1921), the “Bureau de Recherches et Participations Minières” for mining (1928), and the “Société Chérifienne des Pétroles” for petroleum exploration (1929). -- Highlighted jul 6, 2014

p.75: After the independence in 1955, the activities slowed down (the last “Annales” include no further meteorological data), and the network of stations and the activities were transferred to the “Direction de l’Air”, created in 1961 by a Royal Decree in 1965 (official bulletin 2765, p. 1477). -- Highlighted jul 6, 2014

p.79: The most relevant achievements of the LGP were the preparation and publication from 1952 to 1975 of several sheets of the “Atlas du Maroc”, coordinated by the “Comité Géographique du Maroc”, an official committee, together with tens of geomorphological sheets, most of which have remained as drawings. In addition, about 3000 maps (Atlas, topographic, general, etc.) were gathered during this period. Copies of the meteorological archives inherited from the former meteorological service of the SPGM are also deposited at the LGP. -- Highlighted jul 6, 2014

p.79: The library, which was initially attached to the General Library of the Protectorate (National Library at present), contains publications (rare books, journals and maps) of most disciplines of natural history and physics, the oldest ones having been published in 1866. The holdings were continuously fed during the early 20th century by hundreds of volumes provided by gifts (J. Bergeron, L. Gentil, among others), acquisitions and especially by up to 600 exchange agreements with numerous institutions throughout the world. For instance, exchanges were active with the Russian, Polish and Chinese academies of Sciences, the American (New York, Smithsonian, etc.) and German museums (Senckenberg, Berlin) and regional academies, British, French, Spanish, Austrian scientific societies, Japanese museums and centres, etc. Because of financial difficulties, only about 250 exchanges with 170 institutions in 36 countries are still active, and a few books bought. The number of volumes is about 17000. -- Highlighted jul 6, 2014

p.81: Despite all the difficulties, periods of unrest and absence of visibility (the most frequent question during the last decades has been “what is this institute and what do you do there?”), the contribution of the Institut Scientifique Chérifien to the development of geosciences in Morocco and North Africa during the almost 100 yr of its existence is a major one. After setting the foundations of a modern scientific research institute in Morocco, the most important advances in geosciences were made in meteorology and climatology (until the late 1950s), seismology, magnetism, gravimetry, structural geology, oceanography and geomorphology. In the absence of a clear strategy and political mediumand long-term planning, the progress in geosciences was clearly related to personal initiatives of remarkable researchers and administrators such as Gentil, Liouville, Roux, Joly and Debrach. -- Highlighted jul 6, 2014

p.81: The ISC still remains an efficient partner in international projects because of its logistical potential (observatories, vehicles, availability and mobility of researchers, etc.), and its publications are known throughout the world. Moreover, its patrimony (libraries, museum) is unique in Morocco, although the inventory is still incomplete. However, its survival depends on several factors, the most important being the renewal of the equipment, the recruitment of young researchers and technical personnel and a more precise strategy within the present-day scientific and economic context. -- Highlighted jul 6, 2014