The Science Plan of the IAHS Decade 2013 – 2022

The IAHS Bureau, during the meeting that was held in Delft, The Netherlands, on October 26th, 2012, approved the name of the new IAHS science initiative for the decade 2013-2022. The name was defined after an extensive discussion with the international community of hydrologists.

Panta Rhei: Change in Hydrology and Society

Panta Rhei logo
As many of you know, a vivid debate was stimulated in Delft during the visionary session on the new decade that took place on October 25th, 2012. A series of inspiring talks was followed by a very intense discussion on the subject of the new decade, the scientific targets and the science questions.

After the meeting in Delft I received many comments from the community, privately and through the blog. In past the 30 days I made a synthesis of the most relevant blog contributions and the private discussions that the Task Force in charge of preparing the Science Plan for the new decade entertained with many of you.

I am pleased to report that the first draft of the science plan is available for download here. The document is still not complete. It still needs to be integrated in the premises. Moreover, the Science Questions therein reported are a first draft only. The document also lacks the conclusions and a through grammatical check.

The purpose of this first draft is to make the ideas available to all of you, in order to solicit contributions from you on the definition of the Science Questions (a section of the document is dedicated to them). In fact, an agreed definition of the Science Questions is a necessary premise to make the new science initiative inclusive.



Please note: in this stage we are defining the Science Questions (SC) and not the research themes. The SC should be broad and should focus on general research challenges, while the research theme will define specific research activities. The research themes will be defined when preparing the implementation plan, namely, from February 2013 onwards. Research themes and working groups may be defined later on as well, during the development of the decade.

PLEASE NOTE: the schedule is as follows.

    By December 31st, 2012: comments are received from the International Community on the Science Plan and Science Questions.
    By February 1st, 2013: Science Plan finalised. Blog post open to solicit contributions on the definition of research themes for the Implementation Plan
    By March 31st, 2013: comments are received on the research themes to be included in the first version of the Implementation Plan.
    By May 31st, 2013: Implementation Plan finalised.
    By July 31st, 2013: Science and Impementation Plan approved by the IAHS Bureau. New decade launched.

Please do not hesitate to comment on the blog or to privately contact me if you need any clarification. Please do not miss this important phase for the definition of Panta Rhei: I am really looking forward to your comments!

All the very best,

Posted in All posts, The Science Plan | 4 Comments

Towards the preliminary Science Plan

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The process for preparing the Science Plan of the new IAHS Scientific Decade was launched during the EGU General Assembly in Vienna, where I presented to the IAHS Task Force and bloggers a first summary of the ideas collected so far from the international IAHS Community. The ideas were further developed during a productive workshop of the IAHS Task Force held in Nanjing (China) during May 11-13, 2012, which was attended by IAHS Officers, Task Force members and local scientists.
The progress towards the Science Plan is synthetically presented in this blog page that will be updated continuously to collect your input. The presentation is deliberately schematic in order to keep it short and easy to read. Please see below for specific questions that I would like to be addressed by your comments.

Structure of the Science Plan (the list is not final)

  1. Title, acronym, logo.
  2. Premise, motivations and rationale.
  3. Definitions.
  4. Subject of the Science Plan and keywords.
  5. Targets.
  6. Science questions.
  7. Description of enabling research.
  8. Organisational structure.
  9. Milestones.

For the title, acronym and logo a dedicated blog page will be shortly created. Please refer to the top menu. The main priority is to define the subject, targets and science questions.

The general subject is research activity in relation to changing hydrology for a changing society and environment (please note: this is not the proposed title, but Eraclitusrather the main focus). Attention will be concentrated on understanding and modeling the two-way interactions between hydrological systems and society, which presupposes the study of how the hydrological systems themselves react to human-induced and natural changes.

The research activity will concentrate on fundamental as well as applied hydrology through prediction, uncertainty assessment, policy development and implementation.

Understanding, Change, Society, Hydrological Prediction, Uncertainty, Risk, Vulnerability (to be completed)

Targets of the research activity
During the meeting in Nanjing three targets were identified.

Target 1 – Understanding
Improve the knowledge and understanding of hydrological systems, and in particular variability, indeterminacy (to be defined – it is one of the reasons for the presence of uncertainty), impacts of change, interaction with human activity. Special attention will be dedicated to complex systems like mountain areas (glaciers), urban areas, alluvial fans, deltas (list to be expanded).

Target 2: Estimation and prediction
Estimate and predict the behaviours and patterns of hydrological systems, with uncertainty assessment to support risk evaluation. This target includes estimation of design variables under change.

Target 3: Science in practice
Address societal needs, policy making and implementation.

Each target must be referred to by science questions.

Science questions
Subquestions can be developed to make the science plan inclusive and comprehensive. For each question, we will have to identify the enabling research later on.

Science question 1 (referred to Target 1)
How to understand the behaviours of changing hydrological systems?

  • How can patterns observation help us? How can co-evolution be modelled?
  • How can we effectively bring together theoretical hydrology, experimental hydrology, applied hydrology, and new measurement techniques to advance our knowledge of hydrological processes?
  • How can the typical time scales of change be identified? How can we constrain change?
  • How can we better understand hydrological behavior across different spatial scales?

Science question 2 (referred to Target 2)
How to integrate advanced knowledge with indeterminacy modelling and uncertainty assessment for improving prediction?

  • How to combine prediction and uncertainty assessment in a coherent framework that features uncertainty as an intrinsic attribute of hydrology and not a limitation? (Need for a real paradigm shift here).
  • How to use co-evolution and self-organisation laws to improve prediction?

Science question 3 (referred to Target 3)
How can we produce sound and transparent scientific modeling tools (open source)?

  • How to develop estimation/prediction methods that are based on good scientific understanding but are also practical to apply on a routine basis by water resources engineers? How can we improve the packaging and dissemination of our knowledge?
  • What are the critical requirements for an agreed protocol/standards for performance assessment and hypothesis/model testing?
  • How can we effectively communicate uncertainty and risk to water resources managers?

Science question 4 (cross-cutting targets)
How can we make use of new observations and information technologies in a new generation of models?

  • How to develop a vision to anticipate and maximise the monitoring technologies that will become available in a few years for the benefit of hydrology?
  • How to make use of new information and communication technologies for scientific cooperation and sharing of multi-basin models, data, and codes?
  • How to effectively combine the observations of the past with new observations based on new technology?

Science question 5 (cross-cutting targets)
How to model hydrology at the interfaces (e.g. surface/ground water interactions) and complex systems?

Comments from the community
We strongly seek your comments addressing the questions below (and others if you wish).

  1. Do you think the main focus is clear?
  2. Do you feel involved in the above Science Questions? Do you think you can actively contribute to this science initiative?
  3. Is the programme stimulating?
  4. Do you have any more Science Questions to suggest? Please note theConfucius breadth and generality of the above questions which should be coherent across all of them.
  5. Do you have suggestions for additional keywords?
  6. Do you have any other comments or concerns?

Please comment! Your input is needed for preparing the Science Plan. Comments should be posted by the end of August, 2012, in order to be taken into consideration when preparing the draft Science Plan to be presented in Delft (October 2012, please see here).

Alberto Montanari

Posted in All posts, Towards the Science Plan | 21 Comments

Report from the IAHS International Workshop “Towards the IAHS Scientific Decade 2013-2022” – Hohai University – Nanjing – May 11-13, 2012.

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During May 11-13 the Hohai University in Nanjing (China) hosted the International IAHS Workshop “Towards the IAHS Scientific Decade 2013-2022”. On behalf of the all the participants, I would like to thank the Hohai University for hosting the meeting. In particular, I would like to thank the President of the Hohai University Prof. Wang Cheng, the local organiser and IAHS vice-President Prof. Liliang Ren, and all the individuals who have excellently contributed to organising this very successful and highly inspiring meeting. The Workshop was attended by numerous members of the IAHS Bureau, including the President Prof. Gordon Young, the President-elect Prof. Hubert Savenije, the vice-President Prof. Denis Hughes and the Secretary General Prof. Christophe Cudennec, as well as numerous representatives from the IAHS Commissions and the task force.

Here below I am briefly describing the development of the workshop agenda as well as the main points of the interesting two-day discussions that was characterised by a vivid enthusiasm and productivity. In fact, as I anticipated above, I am happy to report that I personally consider the Nanjing meeting a very fruitful experience not only for the development of the next IAHS decade, but also for my personal growth.

The description below is essentially a report, that aims to making the information available. A scientific synthesis of the workshop will be published soon on the blog.

May 11, 2012 – Morning Session
The Opening Ceremony of the workshop was chaired by Prof. Liliang Ren and hosted the speeches by Prof. Wang Cheng, President of the Hohai University, Prof. Zhang Jianyun, President of the National Hydraulic Research Institute and President of the Chinese National Committee for IAHS, Prof. Gordon Young, President of IAHS, and Prof. Wang Jiyang, Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. A group photo of the workshop Participants was taken that can be downloaded by clicking on the low resolution version that is shown here below.

Group photo - Nanjing meeting

The first session of the workshop was dedicated to a discussion of the brainstorming process so far on the scientific challenges for the new decade and the new science initiative. After my summary talk (my powerpoint presentation, in the finalform resulting from the discussion that is briefly summarised below,  can be downloaded here) brief inputs from workshop participants were presented. An interesting open discussion followed, that can be summarised by the following main items.

  • The idea of setting up a blog has proven to be very successful to involve a large part of the community in the discussion. It is hoped that many more comments will come.
  • The new decade should be effectively addressed to investigate the links between hydrology and society and to solve societal problems. After the PUB decade, that was purely scientific, it would be appropriate to put together science with practice. Hydrology should be effectively combined with water resources management, including policy development and implementation.
  • In a context where interaction with society will be put on the centre stage, it will be of fundamental importance to maintain and promote the profound identity of hydrology, as a fundamental science for human development and health.
  • The new decade should focus on change in hydrological systems as a result of interaction with society. Understanding and modelling change will be the fascinating challenge for hydrology in the next 10 years and IAHS will play a leading role in this process. To understand change it is extremely important to inspect limiting behaviours, tipping points and shocks.
  • Uncertainty plays a relevant role in the study of the interaction between hydrology and society. Uncertainty must be reduced as much as possible, by improving understanding. And, above all, there is the need to devise new perspectives for better communicating uncertainty and its practical and theoretical meaning. Currently, uncertainty is frequently interpreted as the consequence of a lack of understanding, which is not correct. There is the need to clarify that uncertainty is an attribute of information and is inherently originated by indeterminacy (or stochasticity), imperfect observation and model structural inadequacy. Addressing uncertainty means to improve our capability to predict.
  • Advanced monitoring techniques will play a central role in the next 10 years and will open new perspectives.
  • The successful planning of the next hydrological decade must be based on a vision that we need to develop on hydrology and hydrologists in 2022. If we look back at 2002, we realise that hydrology was much different. A successful vision for the future requires a visionary effort: what the monitoring techniques, models and computing capabilities will be?

May 11, 2012 – Afternoon Session
The afternoon session was dedicated to drawing a first roadmap towards the Science Plan for the new IAHS Decade. The session was opened by a brief presentation by me to introduce the main points of the Science Plan, which should be (the list is not final):

  • Title, acronym, logo.
  • Premise, motivations and rationale.
  • Definitions.
  • Subject of the Science Plan and keywords.
  • Targets.
  • Science questions.
  • Description of enabling research.
  • Organisational structure.
  • Milestones.

I also presented a first list of targets and science questions. A very stimulating discussion followed, that brought us to better define them. Three main targets have been identified, which are: 1) understanding, 2) prediction with uncertainty, 3) science in practice (a post will be published soon on the blog).
At the end of the discussion, my powerpoint presentation with which the afternoon session was opened was modified accordingly. The final version can be downloaded at the link indicated above.

It was decided to present the synthesis of the above discussion in a new post of the blog that will be published soon, and to which I kindly address you for more details and for posting your comments, which we strongly need. Please comment!

During the above discussion I presented the cartoon below to summarise the topic of the new initiative. The cartoon is still far from being exhaustive, but has the purpose to invite all of you to provide suggestions to me for sketches that will be needed for effectively presenting and summarising the new initiative.
I am passionate of drawing programmes but I do not have a profound artistic inspiration, and therefore I need your help. Please draw on a piece of paper any scheme that you think might be useful for conveying the ideas we are developing, pass it in the scanner and send it to me. I appreciate your help very much.

Draft cartoon

May 12, 2012 – Morning Session
A synthesis of the previous’ day discussion was drawn after I prepared a modified version of targets and science questions. Then, ample space was given to the input from Commissions. Suggestions were provided by the International Commission (IC) on Surface Water, IC on Ground Water, IC on Remote Sensing, IC on Snow and Ice Hydrology, IC on Water Quality, IC on Continental Erosion, IC on Coupled Land-Atmosphere Systems, IC on Water Resources Systems, IC on Tracers, IC on Statistical Hydrology. The above inputs were very useful and proved that the IAHS community is giving a lot of thoughts on the next scientific decade.

May 12, 2012 – Afternoon Session
The afternoon session was dedicated to the next steps towards the new science decade. In my introductory presentation I planned to keep the blog activity open for inputs during the whole summer, in order to collect suggestion for the preparation of the first draft of the Science Plan, to be presented at the meeting to be held in Delft on October 23-25, 2012 (please see here). Comments will be considered to be included in the draft if posted before than Aug 31, 2012.
The third day of the Delft meeting will be explicitly dedicated to the new decade. A set of invited presentations will be delivered to introduce ideas for the research activity addressing the science questions. Additional idea for science subquestions may be collected during the meeting in Delft.
Moreover, the EGU Leonardo Conference to be held in Turin during November 14-16, 2012 (please see here) will host a subsequent discussion on the Science Plan, mainly with the purpose to inform the EGU community.
Finally, the Science Plan will be presented, and the new decade launched, at the IAHS Scientific Assembly to be held in Gothenburg during July 22-26, 2013 (please see here).
The workshop was closed with an exciting discussion on the title and acronym of the new initiative. I am not providing any anticipation on the outcome on purpose because it was decided that a blog page be opened to collect more proposals from the community. A special prize will be given for the most important contribution to identifying the final acronym!

May 13, 2012 – Field Trip
May 13 was dedicated to a trip to the village of Zhou Zhuang, which is called “The Venice of the East”!

Once again, I would like to thank the Hohai University and all the participants for this very stimulating workshop and I invite all of you to visit the synthesis post that will be published soon for more details on Science Plan preparation and for posting your comments!

Alberto Montanari

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After the EGU week and towards Nanjing

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,

as you know, the agenda for the new IAHS Science Initiative has been, and still is, very busy. From April 22 to 27 the EGU General Assembly took place which hosted very interesting meetings where the new IAHS decade was widely discussed. Finally, from May 11th to 13th the Hohai University in Nanjing (China) is hosting a dedicated meeting of the IAHS Task Force that will also be attended by several IAHS Officers and eminent researchers working in China.
With this post I would like to provide a brief report on the IAHS initiatives that took place during the EGU week, that were very much stimulating.

The first IAHS dedicated initiative was the Task Force Meeting that was opened to IAHS Officers and blog contributors so far. The meeting was attended by 22 persons. It was introduced by the IAHS President Prof. Gordon Young that summarised the process leading to the definition of the new IAHS decade. I gave a short talk (my powerpoint presentation can be downloaded here (32 Mb)) to summarise the blog inouts so far. A long discussion followed with contributions by most of the people who attended the meeting. The minutes can be downloaded here. In my opinion it was a very useful debate. Basically many of us agreed that hydrological change and interaction with society should be the relevant keywords for the new decade. The meeting was closed by Gordon Young who proposed to extend the set of relevant keywords by including: change, uncertainty, vulnerability and risk.

The second relevant appointment for IAHS was the visionary session of the Hydrological Sciences Division that took place on Wednesday, April 25, entitled “Visionary session on the next Hydrological Decade”. The symposia was explicitly dedicated to IAHS and was attended by about 600 people. The very high attendance is a clear proof of the interest of our community in the IAHS activities. Six invited 25-minute presentations were given by K. Beven, G. Young, T. Wagener, H.H.G. Savenije, X. Sanchez-Vila and P. Grathwohl. They all kindly agreed to make their presentations available, which can be downloaded here below.

K. Beven: Can we test model hypotheses of flow and transport in assessing the hydrological impacts of change? (3.6 Mb)
G. Young: Water challenges of the future; how scientific understanding can help (50 Mb)
T. Wagener: Taking the long view of hydrology (16 Mb)
H. Savenije: What are the main research challenges in hydrology? (36 Mb)
X. Sanchez-Vila: EGUvisionarysanchez.pdf (4 Mb)
P. Grathwohl: Diffuse pollution of soil and water: Long term trends at large scales? (15 Mb)

Each talk was followed by stimulating questions that helped gaining a better perception of what the broad community of hydrologists thinks about the most relevant research challenges for the next 10 years.

Finally, on Friday I gave a talk on the new IAHS decade to promote participation to the blog. My talk is available here

I am not providing any personal scientific summary of the stimulating discussions I had at EGU because I am planning to write a scientific blog post after the meeting in Nanjing, to summarise the whole discussion so far. Meanwhile, please provide any comment you may have on the IAHS initiatives that took place during the EGU week and the new IAHS decade in general. Please note that the blog discussion on the new IAHS Science Initiative will remain open for the whole summer, but it is extremely important for us to get your relevant comments as soon as possible. Please do contribute with your personal feelings and scientific inputs!

All the very best,

Posted in All posts, Introductory discussion | 2 Comments

The new Science Initiative – First summary of the discussion

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Seventy days passed since the blog was open and I am glad to see that the first post received some 3000 visits and 20 comments, and the site received 22 user registrations. This is a clear indication that the discussion on the next IAHS scientific decade is relevant for the international community of hydrologists. I would like to draw a first summary of the discussion and to put forward more advanced ideas for setting up the basis of the next IAHS initiative.

Basically, the discussion so far has highlighted that:

  • The new Science Initiative should be a substantial contribution to IAHS community building, should be inclusive (Hilary McMillan) and the subject should be attractive for funding agencies (Bettina Schaefli). It should be a multidisciplinary effort (Fabrizio Fenicia, Stan Schymanski).

  • Hydrological change and variability, and the interaction between hydrology and society, are topical issues that deserve to be focused on (myself, Hoshin Gupta, Stan Schymanski, Giuliano Di Baldassarre).

  • Uncertainty should be a keyword for the new initiative, in an innovative manner with respect to the traditional paradigm that attempted to eliminate uncertainty in hydrology (Demetris Koutsoyiannis, Christian Stamm).

  • Understanding past and present is a key issue to foresee what the future will be (Ciaran Harman). Comparative hydrology is an effective tool to this end (Ciaran Harman, Siva Sivapalan).

  • Modern technologies offer unprecedented opportunities (Salvatore Grimaldi, Demetris Koutsoyiannis, David Post).

  • The new initiative should effectively focus on unstudied areas of the world (Alberto Viglione et al.).
  • The new initiative should provide a sound scientific basis for adaptive management of water resources under uncertainty (Christian Stamm).

I believe the above summary provides a very useful and detailed first picture of the expectation from the IAHS community. I would propose to postpone the discussion related to the name of the new Science Initiative. Ideas for name and acronym will be collected later on. With this post, I would like to discuss the main theme for the new Science Initiative that emerged from the blog comments so far, by also stimulating ourselves to gain a better insight into the above bullet points.

Indeed, hydrological change is recognised to be a topical issue for hydrologists. Understanding and modelling the behaviour of hydrological (uncertain) systems under changing conditions is a compelling necessity to cope with environmental and social evolution and to provide a satisfactory reply to applied engineering problems. I think there is no doubt that the above issue is involving and attracting a wide part of the IAHS community.

However, it is still unclear how change can be modelled besides the traditional “top down” scenario approach. This latter is carried out by identifying and calibrating hydrological models in current conditions and then running them with perturbed parameters or input data according to assumptions on changing forcing and/or dynamics. As a matter of fact, the top down approach has been used in several studies already. On the one hand, it provided useful results. On the other hand, it has proved to be affected by significant limitations due to limited credibility of current models under changing conditions, uncertainty in future scenarios and model parameters. The results so far obtained call for improved approaches to better understand the interaction between hydrological systems and changing socio-economic and environmental forcing, besides what perturbations in input data and parameters suggest.

The question, then, is: what would be an innovative blueprint to understanding and modelling of changing systems? Replying to the above question means to put the basis for a vision on the science plan we are looking for. I am putting some ideas forward, by taking inspiration from what colleagues wrote on the blog. I am looking forward to your follow up.

1) A necessary prerequisite to understand changing system is to improve our understanding of their dynamics, and their evolution, in the current and past situation. The keyword would be “historical hydrology” and “process hydrology”. This is a first milestone that is rooted in classical hydrology and allows us to set up a connection with the previous decades, and in particular PUB, whose success is unquestionable. Experimental activity is essential, as well as improved process-based and stochastic modelling (possibly integrated in an innovative framework). I think a key step is to better understand hydrologic variability and evolution, which is of course extremely important in the face of change. New ideas are needed to effectively integrate experimental and modelling activity therefore gaining new insights into hydrological modelling.

2) A second prerequisite, which is not disjointed by the first, is uncertainty and predictability. Uncertainty should not be viewed as just a mean to compensate limited understanding. In the innovative view we would like to promote uncertainty should be treated as an effect of indeterminacy. It is a behaviour of hydrological processes, due to the fact that in some instances processes evolve randomly. Evolution itself, in biology, includes random processes (see, meaning that Nature evolves accordingly to deterministic rules which are integrated with random outcomes.

Predictability is directly related with uncertainty. In fact, randomness implies lack of predictability in deterministic terms. However, statistical prediction of uncertain events is still possible and useful. An interesting reading is provided by

What is important, in my view, is to reduce (epistemic) uncertainty as much as possible while recognising the intrinsic behaviour of random processes in hydorlogy, for which uncertainty will never be eliminated. The ideal framework is the integration of stochastic and deterministic representations, therefore allowing to maximise predictability in both deterministic and statistical terms.

Predictability and uncertainty are extremely important issues in engineering and management. The recent hydrological literature presented several meaningful contributions to uncertainty assessment and modelling. On the other hand, the literature related to PUB is an excellent example of the effort to seek predictability. I think we need to move additional steps forward to set up a unified theory for uncertainty assessment and to fully integrate uncertainty modelling and hydrological modelling.

3) A theoretical scheme needs to be introduced to infer the behaviours of changing hydrological systems in time, in the presence of non-stationarity. Effective tools within this respect are “data analysis”, “comparative hydrology” and “trading space for time”. We also need improved schemes to better take advantage of modern monitoring technologies, by exploiting remotely sensed information on soil moisture, topography, land cover, biology, river network morphology and many others. Indeed, orthogonal information can represent a key for conditioning the dynamics of changing systems.

The question is: what would be the basic principles of such theoretical scheme, besides physical conservation laws and Newton laws? In fact, physical constraints are a necessary but not sufficient condition to model hydrological systems that are changing in time with many degrees of freedom. We need more organising principles to understand how watersheds and hydrological variables will evolve in the future. Ciaran Harman and Alberto Viglione mentioned the issue of “evolution” of “landscape”, “climates” and “coupled human-water systems”. This is the topic we are interested in and I like the term evolution, which implies the presence of constraints in the process. Such constraints are one of our major focuses. Ideas on their identification and formalisation in the hydrological context are more than welcome.

4) Focused activity is needed on modern technologies, to make them effectively useful. There are domains within hydrology (like flood modelling) where modern information indeed helped a lot to improve process understanding and modelling. There are other fields where progresses are obtained with a slower pace. I think there is the need to identify effective data sources for making the above emerging theoretical scheme and constraints applicable. The development of new theory should be carried out by always keeping an eye on practical applications (hydrology is a science with many implications in engineering) and data collection is of course essential to this end. Ideas are needed to identify emerging monitoring techniques that are useful for our purposes.

5) In conclusion, the theoretical scheme needs to be very general, in order to be inclusive and attractive. And, most important, should lend itself to addressing the emerging and unpostponable questions related to the interaction between hydrology and society, which also implies the effective possibility to put adaptation into practice. Indeed, socio-hydrology is emerging from the relevant role that humans are playing on the hydrological cycle and ranks high in the research interests of many countries. It is the result of the human pressures that are rapidly changing in time all over the world. Ideas are needed to assess current pressures, and to predict the future conditions in the face of sustainable development and adaptation. We need a focused brainstorming activity to emphasise the leading role that hydrology must take in environmental planning and management.

I am looking forward to a new round of comments on the above thoughts. We now need focused ideas for drafting an inclusive and coordinated science plan. I would like to remind all of you that the Task Force will meet in Vienna during EGU 2012, where a special session on the new IAHS decade (invited speakers only) is planned within the programme of the Hydrological Sciences Division. Please see

Please contact me if you are interested to attend the Task Force meeting that will be held during the EGU week.

All the best,

Posted in All posts, Introductory discussion | 18 Comments

Discussion – The new Science Initiative of IAHS

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The discussion hosted on this web page is dedicated to the new Science Initiative of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS), to be launched in 2013. The aim of the discussion is to identify key scientific challenges for hydrology in the near future, therefore shaping the main focus of IAHS in the next years. Background on IAHS and how the initiative came about is given in the page “About the IAHS new Science Initiative” whose link is provided in the above menu.

Devising a scientific initiative in hydrology is an exciting and stimulating task. Such an ambitious target calls for a community brainstorming activity. In fact, a science initiative is indeed a community effort: ideas must reflect the feeling of as many scientists as possible. Although communication means are very efficient today, to launch a public discussion on scientific questions for the future and to draw a synthesis of its output is indeed a challenging aim.

When I was invited by IAHS to devise and moderate this discussion I felt very much honored. I think this is an extremely interesting experience that I accepted enthusiastically, but I immediately realized that I really need the help of the whole IAHS to carry out the task well. For this reason, after consulting with numerous colleagues and the IAHS Bureau, I decided to open this blog, which I hope will be able to reach out extensively to all IAHS members.

The question that I would like all readers to address is:

“What is your view on the most exciting research challenges for hydrologists in the next 10 years? What are the core questions hydrologists should address that will get a worldwide attention from the community?”

I sincerely hope that this public discussion, which will last for about 6 months, can effectively catch the attention of the IAHS community. I would like everybody, and in particular young scientists, to freely share their thoughts without being shy or concerned about whether their opinions fit in. Any suggestion could be the opportunity for all of us to get in touch with colleagues who could provide a substantial contribution during the subsequent development of the initiative. Summarizing the results of the discussion and writing a draft science plan is a daunting task for which we clearly need a diversity of views.

If you are still in doubt whether or not you should leave a comment on this blog, please contact me.

I am honored to have the opportunity to trigger the discussion by providing my view on the above key question. I’ll be very brief for now, because I want to leave the discussion fully open. Other TF members will provide their thoughts in the near future.

I do have some personal observations. I think one of the most exciting challenges for hydrologists in the future is to better understand how hydrological systems and processes react to changing conditions and forcings, in relation to societal development. In fact, water is facing rising pressures due to increased demands from a growing human population and changing lifestyles, and decrease of freshwater resources due to over-exploitation, land use and land cover changes, and resulting environmental pollution. This is the consequence of efforts to improve the quality of life and therefore it is a positive development. However, the sustainability of this development is questionable.

In fact, in many parts of the world the poor distribution of freshwater in relation to demand is already the cause of water scarcity, which may be exacerbated by climate change (Kundzewicz 2007; Koutsoyiannis et al., 2009; Blöschl and Montanari 2010; Wagener et al., 2010). Moreover, the effect of human activities on the water cycle is deepening and widening rapidly across the planet, driven by increased demands for energy (King and Webber 2008; Koutsoyiannis et al., 2009), water (Jackson et al. 2001), food (Vörösmarty et al., 2000) and living space (Zhao et al., 2001).

Therefore, relevant scientific questions arise about the sustainability of the above changes for hydrological systems and the related effects on society. To improve the societal management of natural resources implies gaining an improved understanding of hydrology. This is an evergreen of hydrology research but –alas – so much remains to be done. In particular, we need to gain a better insight into how water systems react to (rapid) change, by analyzing the two-way connection between society and these water systems (Sivapalan et al. in press, HP). In the non-linear, dynamic interplay of people and water systems complex and very surprising patterns may arise and these we need to understand for being prepared for the future water challenges.

In particular, to distinguish between human induced changes and hydrological variability seems to be a key issue to better understand the interaction with society and how changes will evolve in the future. Identification of change requires a better understanding of variability as a function of space and time scales.

What are the reasons for variability and how does variability scale across time and space? What are the footprints that may allow one to recognize change in (rapidly) varying signals? What are the reactions of systems to change and variability? What about the predicting capabilities? These are deep science questions and at the same time relevant for water management.

The above thoughts make me think that “change”, “variability” and “society” are likely keywords for hydrology in the near future. I believe that meaningful answers to the above questions require a deep understanding of the interactions of hydrological systems and humans in an interdisciplinary framework.

As I said, I would like not to go into details at the present stage. I am looking forward to numerous spontaneous feedback from all of you to better shape the above thoughts! Disagreement is particularly welcome.

Thank you for your interest.
All the best,

Blöschl, G., Montanari, A., Climate change impacts-throwing the dice? (vol 25, pg 374, 2010), Hydrological Processes, 24, 1094-1094, 2010.
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