Hydrological Sciences

Hydrological Sciences

Science as Type II Fun

Science as Type II Fun

Autumn had finally arrived – the weather had cooled down enough to start rock climbing outside again in southern Arizona. I was working on scaling a mountain’s cliff face tall enough to be a skyscraper with nearly 15 fellow scientists climbing routes around me. My palms were sweaty with nerves and my muscles were starting to get tired. I questioned what possessed me to climb this huge rock. And I wasn’t alone! There were over a dozen scientists around me complaining about how gravity felt particularly heavy that day. When I finally reached the top and rappel down, it’s all worth it. It’s Type II fun – challenging, but fun in retrospect. After some reflection, I realized that, like endurance sports, sometimes doing science is also Type II fun.

This comparison didn’t quite set in until I started training for another endurance sport – ultrarunning. When I told non-scientist friends and family that I would be running a 5 km race, they would respond, “That’s great! Have fun!” Then, I caught the bug of running long distances. When I said I was training for a 60 km race, they’d ask in a mix of disbelief and mild revulsion, “Why? We’re proud, but that seems hard.” But, really, when I decided to go my Ph.D., the conversation was similar.

My non-scientist friends were right about rock climbing and ultrarunning – it’s hard. I’ve collided with the ground and the rock wall more times than I want to admit to anyone. While, I only needed to get stitches once, I have finished every run and climb more energized than when I started.

They were also right about working in science. At times, it has been hard – but incredibly rewarding. I spent 3 months trying to make a set of sensors that could send and receive compression waves in soil and withstand being spun at 80 m/s2 for an experiment. One day, I finally got them to work and was able to run my 8-hour experiment. The research team cheered and celebrated the success. Long hours of problem solving had finally paid off and, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d probably do it again.

While thinking about this writing this article, I realized that a significant fraction of my colleagues does endurance sports. I asked why they run, climb, swim, cycle…

One said that she jokes that we’re all masochistic, but that the harder the climbing route, the stronger the feeling of accomplishment. It keeps her going back. In her research, she’s developing a complex biochemical numerical model. This work requires a challenging and mundane debugging effort but knows that it is worth it when it all works.

Another enjoys the challenge and sees each individual physical move in sport as working towards a problem. He compared this to every step of conducting research – each requiring focus and control.

Another endurance athlete scientist appreciates their sport because it gives them the opportunity to focus inward. Their success is dependent on their own performance and revel in the control and reward when they succeed. This diverges from the best science – which requires collaboration and a team. Also, science is sometimes Type I fun – or, enjoyable while it’s happening. Some of the best collaborations start at coffee breaks or out for drinks after the official conference programming has ended.

Sure, my sample size is small (n = 10), but I’m not the first to make the comparison between science and endurance sports. Both take perseverance, focus, and tenacity, but it’s all worth it and (Type II) fun in the end.

Caitlyn Hall (she/her) is a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University. Her current research focus is promoting sustainability and natural hazard resilience using bacteria to reduce damage from earthquake-induced liquefaction. She works with industry, community, and government leaders to develop best-fit technical and policy solutions to best-address a community’s challenges and values. Her other research focuses include controlled environment agriculture, sustainable use of resources for urban farming, and using biochemical methods to remediate oil-contaminated soil. For fun, Caitlyn spends her time rock climbing and trail running.

Featured catchment series: Disentangling the ecohydrology of a tropical hotspot!

Featured catchment series: Disentangling the ecohydrology of a tropical hotspot!

Zhurucay Ecohydrological Observatory: Critical zone observations at the top of the Andes!

A natural laboratory of tropical alpine ecohydrology

Tropical alpine ecosystems, known as the Páramo, extend to high elevations (3,000-5,000 m a.s.l.) mainly through the northern Andes of South America from Venezuela to northern Peru. Given their geographical location and elevation, Páramo areas are exposed to high energy inputs from solar radiation that can critically stress vegetation, soils, and water resources. Moreover, the highly organic nature of their soils (Andosols and peat-type Histosols) is among the unique features of the Páramo. These soils do not only act as carbon stores, but also as water reservoirs. As a result, the Páramo is considered a global sentinel of climate change and provides an extraordinary opportunity to investigate how the water-carbon-energy nexus will be affected by changes in global climate. In light of these challenges and opportunities, the Department of Water Resources and Environmental Sciences (iDRHICA) at the University of Cuenca, Ecuador, implemented and maintains the Zhurucay Ecohydrological Observatory. Research at Zhurucay aims to address the overarching question: What is the effect of global change on the ecohydrological functioning of tropical alpine ecosystems? Thus, Zhurucay has become a natural laboratory to investigate the hydrological, ecological, and geochemical processes occurring within the Páramo critical zone since its establishment in late 2010.

Photographs of the dominant organic-rich soils found at Páramo areas. Andosol (left) and Histosol (right) soils within the observatory. Photo Credit: Pablo Borja.

Where is Zhurucay located and how is it instrumented?

Zhurucay is located at the top of the Andes in south Ecuador, on the west slope of the divide of waters draining towards the Pacific Ocean and the Amazon basin. It extends over 3,400-3,900 m a.s.l. and its landscape is mainly composed of a series of grasslands, wetlands, small ponds, and small Polylepis forest patches
The monitoring setup at Zhurucay includes a broad range of sensors, which vary from traditional to innovative technologies. A SuperSite (3,780 m a.s.l.) is instrumented with a climate station, electronic rain gauges, a laser disdrometer, an eddy covariance tower, photosynthetic active radiation sensors, fog traps, volumetric lysimeters, and an experimental hillslope plot extensively instrumented with soil moisture probes, tensiometers, heat flux plates, and net radiometers. A network of electronic rain gauges is also distributed across the observatory. The streamflow monitoring system is composed of seven nested sub-catchments (0.2-3.3 km2) draining toward the outlet of the Zhurucay River (7.5 km2). Every catchment has probes that measure water level, water temperature, and electrical conductivity simultaneously. Additionally, one of the streamflow monitoring sites is equipped with water quality autosamplers and a UV-spectrophotometer to measure in-stream water quality parameters. An experimental forest patch micro-catchment is also equipped with point dendrometers, leaf moisture, wood moisture, sap flow, soil moisture, air humidity and temperature probes at different canopy levels and automatic throughfall collectors. All of these instruments measure and record data at five-minute intervals.

Instrumentation at Zhurucay. A) V-notch weir in one of the nested catchments of the observatory. B) Tipping bucket rain gauges of different technology and resolution and C) eddy covariance system at the SuperSite. Photo Credit: iDRHICA.

Stream water sampling for isotopic and geochemical analysis during one of the first monitoring sessions in 2011. Photo Credit: Patricio Lazo.

Complementary to these measurements, the monitoring program includes the continuous weekly to sub-daily collection of spatially distributed water samples in precipitation, streamflow, springs, and soil water for water isotope analysis since mid-2011. The isotopic monitoring scheme also includes the high-frequency (hourly to sub-hourly) collection of precipitation and streamflow water samples during rainstorm events. The continuous isotopic monitoring is complemented by campaigns of weekly to hourly collection of water samples for water quality analysis (metals and nutrients). Additional characterizations of the observatory include stream biodiversity (macro- and micro-invertebrates), the distribution and classification of soils and the sampling of soil profiles for the determination of the soils’ physical and chemical properties, and a detailed field mapping of the vegetation across the observatory.

Current understanding and open research questions

During the past five years, the analysis of field observations at Zhurucay in combination with modelling techniques has allowed for a rapid improvement in the understanding of Páramo (eco)hydrology.

  • High-resolution laser disdrometer data showed that precipitation at Zhurucay occurs continuously over the year, mainly in the form of drizzle (80% of rainfall duration), with only 12% of dry days over the year.
  • Isotopic and geochemical signatures were used to identify the main water sources contributing to runoff formation. These data indicate that Andean Páramo wetlands, formed by the combination of Histosol soils and cushion plant vegetation, are the main source of water contributing to discharge throughout the year despite they cover only 20% of the catchment.
  • Mean transit time modelling using the isotopic signatures of precipitation and streamflow depicted that the age of streamflow varies between 2-9 months among the catchments.
  • Analysis of the water storage of the catchments indicated that only 6–10% of their mixing storage is hydrologically active in their water balance.
  • Mapping of the landscape features allowed to investigate whether biophysical features of the catchments influence their hydrological behavior. The runoff coefficient and the production of high and moderate flow rates of the catchments is influenced by their areal extent of wetlands; whereas their mean transit time, low flow production, and mixing storage is controlled by their topography.
  • Eddy covariance analysis depicted that the Páramo is a source of CO2 and exhibits a net positive exchange. The canopy storage capacity of the dominant Páramo vegetation, tussock grass, is 2 mm; and its evapotranspiration is 51% of annual precipitation. An emulation experiment of extensive tussock grass grazing suggested that this land use practice does not alter soil moisture dynamics in the dominant Páramo soil, Andosol, as long as the soil remains undisturbed.
  • The influence of streamflow dynamics on stream macro-invertebrate biodiversity showed that communities are more affected by peak flow events than low flow conditions.

Runoff originated from the Zhurucay wetlands underlain by peaty Histosol soils. This soil-ecological interaction provides the ecosystem with a high water storage capacity, while the topography of the U-shaped landscape of glacial origin controls runoff generation. Photo credit: Giovanny Mosquera.

Ongoing work at Zhurucay is aimed at addressing the following research questions:
– Which factors control precipitation formation?
– What is the role of fog and drizzle in the water balance of catchments?
– What controls the temporal variability of catchment water flow and mixing?
– What controls the dynamics of streamflow water quality parameters?
– What is the exportation of nutrients and metals via streamflow?
– What is the eco-physiological functioning of Polylepis forests?

A field visit to the Zhurucay Ecohydrological Observatory was one of the main events organized as part of the AGU Chapman Conference on “Emerging Issues in Tropical Ecohydrology” held in Cuenca, Ecuador in June, 2016. The visit attracted the interest of researchers from across the world to start cooperation with iDRHICA researchers in various fields. If you are interested, do not hesitate to contact us!

Relevance, implications, and cooperation

Runoff generated from Páramo areas supplies water and sustains the socio-economic development of millions of inhabitants in the tropical Andes. This provision of hydrological services is threatened by the ecosystem’s vulnerability to global change stressors, which occur here at faster rates than in other montane ecosystems. Thus, research at Zhurucay is targeted to develop science-based knowledge that helps improving the management of vegetation, soil, and water resources of tropical alpine ecosystems. Since acquiring such knowledge requires a holistic understanding of hydrological, ecological, and biogeochemical processes occurring at different scales in time and space, inter- and multidisciplinary research at Zhurucay is encouraged. Thus, we welcome local, national, regional, and international cooperation that helps leverage on the long-term continuous collection of hydrometric and geochemical information, which in combination with controlled experiments and the use of predictive models, is aimed at resolving the following questions from a multidisciplinary perspective:
– How do water and nutrient cycles feedback in the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum?
– How do changes in land use and climate influence the ecosystem’s water balance and nutrient cycling?
By addressing these questions, research at Zhurucay will not only contribute to fill important ecohydrological knowledge gaps at one of the most diverse, yet understudied, regions of the planet, the tropical Andes; but also to allow for the implementation of sustainable strategies that help improve the management of the Páramo natural resources. So, don’t hesitate to contact us to arrange a visit and/or start a collaboration at an alpine environment in a tropical latitude! https://www.ucuenca.edu.ec/idrhica/index.php/en/contact/

Giovanny Mosquera is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Cuenca, Ecuador and currently the IAHS Early Career Committee Representative for ICT, Tracers.



Edited by Matthias Sprenger and Wouter Berghuijs

YHS interview Serena Ceola: shedding light on interrelations between human impacts and river networks

In its “Hallway Conversations” series, the Young Hydrologic Society has recently published an interview with Serena Ceola, who is a senior assistant professor at University of Bologna, Department of Civil, Chemical, Environmental, and Materials Engineering. The interview was conducted by Sina Khatami, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne. With their agreement, we reproduce the interview, which was originally published here.

Can you tell us a little about your background and education?

I was born in Padova, Italy, and studied environmental engineering at the University of Padova, from which I obtained a master’s degree in 2009. Since my bachelor’s studies, I was fascinated by hydrology: both my bachelor’s and master’s theses dealt with the availability of river discharge. Then, in 2009 I moved to Lausanne in Switzerland and I continued my studies with a PhD at the Laboratory of Ecohydrology of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). My PhD thesis focused on the implications of river discharge availability on river ecosystems (namely algae and macroinvertebrates). Since 2013, I have been based at the University of Bologna, Italy, and currently as an assistant professor. Now my main research project focuses on the relationship between river discharge availability and human activities, both at local and global scales.

Was becoming a scientist your career plan when you were a student? Tell us about the journey how you got here? Any role models, major hurdles in the way, inspirations that helped you to prevail, and decisions you regret or are now proud of?

Originally, my career plan was to work outside academia, as an engineer, possibly in a private company. But a few weeks before my graduation, I received an offer which sounded like a unique opportunity for me: Andrea Rinaldo, my master’s thesis co-advisor, offered me a PhD in Switzerland at EPFL. I decided to take this opportunity, and now I am an assistant professor at the University of Bologna in Italy. I could have not ever imagined such a plan 10 years ago and I am so proud of this decision! During these years I had the pleasure to work and collaborate with fantastic mentoring people, that helped me in pursuing an academic career. They literally inspired me!

What is your research vision, the fundamental question that you are interested to address as a scientist?

I would love to shed more light on the interrelations between human impacts and river networks, using unconventional data and identifying analytical models that could help in the definition of a more sustainable world in the future.

You have a benchmark paper on using satellite nightlight data as a proxy or predictor of human and economic damages due to floods. How did you come up with such an elegant and novel research idea?

I came across a paper by Chen and Nordhaus (2011), where they used nightlights to create a gridded database of GDP. Since I started working on flood risk assessment analysis in Bologna, I had the idea to use nightlights as a proxy of human exposure to floods. Namely, the more illuminated area, the more exposed to floods.

During EGU 2019, you’ve been recognized by the Hydrologic Sciences Division as Outstanding Early Career Scientist. What personal and professional factors do you think led to this great recognition?

It was such an honor to get this important, and I would say quite unexpected, award. I feel that my interdisciplinary background – focused on the interrelations between hydrology and stream ecology (my PhD research topic) and the linkages between hydrology and human activity was one of the driving factors. In addition, my experimental activity in small flumes, and the ability of translating this into mathematical models was another key factor. Finally, an unconventional use of freely-accessible data for hydrological purposes could have been another important factor.

What do you think are your major challenges as an early career scientist, and how are you tackling or preparing for them?

One of the major challenges as an early career scientist is to keep working hard, even more than before, and be original. Also, being an assistant professor, means that you teach courses to bachelor and master students – thus your time devoted to research is very limited. And finally, as a woman and a mum it is quite challenging to do all of this, but I am trying to do my best in everything I am doing.

What are your main hobbies besides work?

Besides work, I am a mum of 2 children – a 3-year old boy and a 1-year old girl. Family and work literally fill my daily routine, even though I really love swimming, so as soon as I have some free time, I jump in a swimming pool!

How are you balancing your work and life? Any regrets or advices for early career and aspiring hydrologists?

As I said before, it is challenging! But I don’t have any regrets and I would re-do the same path as I did so far. My recommendation to young hydrologist is “Be passionate!” Since you will spend a lot of time (days and nights) on a research project, it is fundamental that you love what you are doing. Although sometimes it is difficult and you cannot see any positive outcome, be bold and keep working on your ideas. Then, search for data to support your ideas and scientific achievements (although sometimes it is quite challenging and time-consuming!), but this proves that your research ideas are correct. Interact with colleagues, ask them if your ideas are reasonable and create your research network. Finally, work and collaborate with inspiring colleagues, who guide and support your research activities. I had and still have the pleasure to work with fantastic mentors!

What major challenges are you most interested to tackle as a hydrologist?

A major challenge in the near future I would love to deal with is the issue of sustainability of water resources and its feedback with human dynamics.


Guest author Sina Khatami (@SinaKhatami) is currently the Secretary of Young Hydrologic Society (YHS) and a committee member of AGU’s Hydrology Section Hydrological Uncertainty Technical Committee. Correspondence to sina.khatami@unimelb.edu.au



Edited by Matthias Sprenger

Hydrologists Join Youth-Led #GlobalClimateStrike

Hydrologists Join Youth-Led #GlobalClimateStrike

In a powerful sign of solidarity, adults from across an estimated 185 countries took to the streets to join last Friday’s youth-led Global Climate Strike, the largest climate protest in history. Among those in attendance were hydrologists from around the world, who stood shoulder to shoulder with young people to support their calls for immediate climate action.

As a hydrologist who participated in the Global Climate Strike, I was interested in exploring my colleagues’ motivations for attending in hopes of learning more about how I — along with the broader scientific community — can continue to support youth-led efforts for climate justice. So I reached out to hydrologists from across the globe and at different career stages. This is what they had to say. All statements presented reflect the views of the individual contributors.

James Bennett is a Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO, Australia.

James Bennett (Melbourne, Australia): “I support the climate strike for my kids. I mean this both in the immediate sense – both my children wanted to go to the strike, and they are too young to go unsupervised – and also in the broader sense, in that their generation and beyond will wear the worst consequences of inaction. Children are clear-eyed about it: they are outraged by the damage we are doing to our natural world and the risks we are taking with the health and happiness of millions of people. And of course they are right.
I also think scientists can provide important support to activists, even if our research isn’t directly addressing climate science (my research doesn’t). We know how hard it is get our work through peer review. And if you work in the earth sciences, chances are you personally know colleagues researching climate, and you know that they are highly trained and dedicated. So our confidence in climate science doesn’t draw only from theory or reading papers, but also from knowing first-hand how rigorous it is. Nothing shows our confidence in the science better than standing shoulder to shoulder with activists. I think it’s our moral obligation to support them.”

Upper right: (Credit: @fff_ankara), Bottom: (Credit: @fff_ankara), Upper left: Nilay, a hydrologist from Middle East Technical University, Turkey, with Buse, a 16-yrs old climate activist.

Nilay Dogulu (Ankara, Turkey): “Planet Earth is wonderful with its ALL habitants regardless of any differences. It is time to raise the consciousness of humans to bring back equity for all, starting with Nature. Earth needs to recover from a sickness (#ClimateCrisis), and each and every cell of Earth (#You, yes you!) must act together to its highest will and strength possible to help this massive cleaning & healing.
Buse is only 16 years old, half of my age (Oddly enough I look very young next to her). She has a very strong sense of courage and perseverance for uniting against climate crisis.
As a women in science, I value the power of youth striking against climate crisis. What’s happening today all around the world is just the beginning. We are moving towards a golden age and it is being led by youth. Now is the time to blend in!”

Dr. Luis Samaniego, Deputy Head of Department of Computational Hydrosystems Helmholtz-Zentrum for Environmental Research – UFZ with colleagues on the Climate Strike in Leipzig, Germany.

Luis Samaniego (Leipzig, Germany): “Available hydro-metereological observations show that the Earth climate is changing fast and may reach a point-of-no-return in the coming decades. Recent research shows that “extreme temperature records will be set in approximately 58% of the world every year” (Power & Delage, 2019). These dramatic changes will have negative consequences for the ecosystems and will be decisive for the fate of humanity in this planet, the only one we have. In Europe, for example, state-of-the-art climate and hydrological projections show that the mean area under extrem heatwaves will increase from 5% under a +1.5 C world (w.r.t. preindustrial times) to 18% under a +3 C world. Similarly, drought area will increase by 40% (± 24%) and will affect 42% (± 22%) more people (Samaniego et. al., 2018). Dry periods will become hotter! According to the IPCC, the chance to stay below the +1.5 C world is around 50%. This means that we don’t have much time left to take actions…For these reasons, I urge every concerned citizen to do as much as possible to reduce of their CO2 footprint now. Similarly, I demand our elected officials to take immediately actions leading to come to an end the age of fossil fuels. As as scientist, I also urge my colleagues to raise their voices and help to illustrate those fellow citizens that are not aware of these hard scientific facts or that have been misled by ignorant politicians.”

Dr. Katerina Michaelides, Senior Lecturer at the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, UK.

Katerina Michaelides (Bristol, UK): “I think we owe it to today’s youth to support them in their fight for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing down the rate of climate change. I work on the impacts of climate change on the water security in East Africa. From our research, it is clear to me that this region is suffering more frequent and more intense droughts as a result of climate change over the last three decades. The implications for millions of people are immense – loss of livelihoods, mass human migration, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and food insecurity, disease, conflict… I don’t want climate change concerns and impacts to dominate the future of my daughter’s generation.”

Prof. Werner Aeschbach from the Inst. of Environmental Physics, University of Heidelberg, Germany.

Werner Aeschbach (Heidelberg, Germany): “I support the climate strike movement because the young protesters explicitly refer to climate science. As environmental scientist aware of the severity of the climate crisis I feel obliged to confirm that the protesters’ concerns are justified, thus I signed the corresponding statement issued by the “Scientists for Future” (Hagedorn et al., 2019, GAIA 28: 79-87). The climate strikers need our backing and we scientists need their societal impact if we want that our warnings about climate change, biodiversity loss, or water crises are heard by the public and by political leaders.”

Kelly Hondula (Annapolis, USA): “I support the climate strike because I’m inspired by the organizers and want to amplify their voices, passion, and vision. Research in journal articles can only go so far towards informing public consciousness and policy decisions that affect our planet. Aside from calling for action from governments and corporations on climate policy, participating motivates an urgency for me to conduct rigorous science that is relevant for figuring out how to create a just and livable future — especially for the generations that are still counting down the days until they can vote.”

Kelly Hondula, a PhD Student in Water Resources at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland, USA.


Ryan Emanuel (Raleigh, USA): “Young people need to know they are acting not only with the support of scientific consensus, but also with the support of actual scientists. As their teachers, parents, elders, and mentors, we should stand alongside youth who speak out for the future they want instead of the future they see being prepared for them. With that in mind, I fully support the youth climate strike and other actions that bring attention to the climate crisis.”

Prof. Ryan Emanuel from the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA.

Guillaume Thirel (Paris, France): “As a scientist working on climate change, and a human being sensitive to environmental issues, I felt that joining the climate strike was compulsory. We have to help and support this youth that seems to be our best option to evolve towards a sustainable future.”

Protesters on the climate strike in Paris, that Guillaume Thirel, a researcher at Irstea, France, attended.

Hannes Müller-Thomy, postdoc at the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management, TU Vienna, Austria.

Hannes Müller-Thomy (Vienna, Austria): “I strongly support these kind of demonstrations to raise the awareness for the biggest challenge in humankind. Only if we all face it together, we will have a chance to deal with it. The demonstrations are a perfect starting point to show this union spirit.”

Dr. Gökçen Uysal, Asst. Prof. at the Department of Civil Engineering, Eskisehir Technical University, Turkey.

Gökçen Uysal (Eskisehir, Turkey): “We are uncontrollably changing the climate and disturbing the natural life in this wonderful Earth. This is happening right now and in every moment, it is real! One of the biggest exam of humankind of this era is that whether we will be still ignoring the damage we have done or not. More terrifying is, most of the people are not yet aware of this destruction or they are pretending as if it does not exist. We do not have too much time to take an action. This global climate strike brings awareness for us, for all, for every life in the world, and I believe we as scientists should be shouldering responsibility more than anyone else.”

Prof. Michael Stewardson, Department of Infrastructure Engineering | Melbourne School of Engineering, Discipline leader Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources

Michael Stewardson (Melbourn, Australia): “I’m supporting the Climate Strike because I am worried about the future. It is apparent that good science and evidence-based communication is not enough to drive the necessary transformations.”

Sina Khatami (Melbourn, Australia) (no photo): “I support climate strike because climate change is an existential threat to our species, one that has never arisen in human history. If we want organized human life to survive in any decent form, we need to pressure politicians and other decision makers to take meaningful actions NOW.”




Unfortunately, I have not yet received contributions from South America and Africa.