Award winning hydrologist’s work set to benefit future global climate studies

Venezuelan hydrologist, Professor Ignacio Rodríguez-Iturbe of Princeton University, US, has been named as the 2002 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for his work in furthering the understanding of how climate, landscape, and surface water interact.

Most recently associated with establishing the concept of eco-hydrology to explain the interaction between the atmosphere and hydrology with plants and soil in a natural system, Professor Rodríguez-Iturbe has been responsible for a succession of developments over the past 30 years to improve the accuracy and reliability of mathematical models used in predicting the impact of extreme weather events.

These began in 1974 when he published an award winning paper that established for the first time in hydrology a clear framework to quantify the accuracy and value of hydrologic data. This concept is now adopted across hydrology and meteorological services, and has been used in the US, Britain and Canada to evaluate data collection systems.

In the mid 1970s, Professor Rodríguez-Iturbe improved existing models for river flows and predicting the likelihood of extreme hydrological events by applying a mathematical tool, known as the ‘Bayesian approach’. This enabled information from different sources, of varying degrees of accuracy, to be combined and taken into account. The approach proceeded to be adopted in various modelling applications for natural systems, for example, as a way of integrating models and opinions for environmental risk assessment, and is acknowledged as improving accuracy and reliability.

For the past 20 years, the professor and his collaborators have proceeded to reformulate existing theories on the formation of river basins to predict drainage patterns under different climatic and geologic conditions. He also spearheaded and formulated the mathematical representation of rainfall as random, active point processes. This has made it possible to simulate rainfall patterns in time and space over many years, creating sequences that mimic how nature may behave in the future, for use in engineering design or analysis.

Most recently, the Professor’s work in developing the new concept of eco-hydrology has opened up a new field of study which is expected to be important in the understanding of global carbon cycles and climate variation.

Professor Rodríguez-Iturbe was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and is the first South American to receive the Stockholm prize. He is currently Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey; and Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University.

The Professor is the 12th winner of the US$150,000 Stockholm Water Prize, presented by the Stockholm Water Foundation. He will be presented with the award by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the patron of the Stockholm Water Prize, at a ceremony in the Stockholm City Hall on August 15, 2002, during the annual World Water Week.

The Prize is awarded to an individual, institution, organization or company that has made the most substantial contribution to the preservation, enhancement and availability of the world’s water resources. The Prize recognizes outstanding research, action or education that increases knowledge of water as a resource and protects its usability for all life. Last year, the Prize was awarded to Professor Takashi Asano from the University of California at Davis in the US, for his contribution to water efficiency and wastewater reclamation. In 2000, Kader Asmal, South Africa’s Minister for Education won the Prize, for his work on water management in South Africa (see related story).

Prize Founders include Anglian Water, Aragon Fondkommission, Bacardi Ltd, Compaq, DuPont, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, General Motors, Grundfos, ITT Flygt, Kemira Kemwater, KPMG, Ragn-Sells, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), SNECMA, Stockholm Water Festival, Swedish State Railways (SJ), Uponor Group, and Water Environment Federation.

The Nominating Committee stated: “Professor Ignacio Rodríguez-Iturbe is awarded the 2002 Stockholm Water Prize for lasting contributions to surface hydrology. With scholarship, creativity, enthusiasm and inspiration he has been in the forefront of the scientific evolution that placed hydrology in the fellowship of Earth Sciences.”

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