Hydrological Sciences

Berit Arheimer (2021 Henry Darcy Medallist) early autumn reflections from a summer cabin

Berit Arheimer (2021 Henry Darcy Medallist) early autumn reflections from a summer cabin

The EGU 2021 Henry Darcy Medal of the EGU Division on Hydrological Sciences was awarded to Berit Arheimer, leader of the Hydrological Research unit at SMHI, and first ever female elected president of IAHS. The medal was awarded for her scientific leadership in policy-relevant large-scale modelling of water quality and quantity, promotion of open hydrology, and her excellence in managing research groups. Her medal lecture was presented at the online vEGU 2021 meeting. It was inspiring and very dynamic! So, we invited Berit to contribute a blog post to the HS community. We wanted to know where she gets all her energy and passion for hydrology and much more!

The way forward is the ultimate goal

Before the pandemic I was on a world-tour promoting climate services and training experts from vulnerable countries in the scientific basis for adaptation. These efforts ended abruptly, and since then I have mainly engaged in my private life and local environment, like many others.

It is incredible how motivation to work can drop without a team and daily physical meetings. My energy vanished with the same speed as online meetings occupied my calendar. But maybe the pause was healthy as it forced me into a slower pace and to appreciate small things and my neighbourhood.

When writing this, the Swedish summer is eventually over and finally it is time to prepare for the next! It is getting clearer each year that the way forward is the ultimate goal (rather than destinations, achievements or moments) – a wisdom that goes for most things in life.

The last years, I have been a very happy and ambitious summer-house keeper, engaged with gardening, house restoration and kayaking on Lake Vättern. I run a lot of practical projects, starting already during the fall (which is the Mother of Spring!), normally with strong visions of what I want to achieve next year. It often links to some essential value, such as biodiversity, self-reliance or visual beauty. I challenge myself in what I can possibly create on my own using residual material that I find under the house and in garden sheds, which are full of leftovers from previous owners over half a century. Starting with one idea quickly leads into the next, just as in science, especially when finding unexpected treasures in the depots.

Bright summer day and night by the deep, crystal clear Lake Vättern (Sweden), the drinking water supply of 300 000 people and habitat of plenty endemic species

This summer was a wake-up call on hazards

The ultimate dream, driving all of us passionate summer-house maniacs, is to finally enjoy the very short and intense Swedish summer, by relaxing in a hammock, watching bumblebees among the colourful flowers, and barbecuing with friends through the bright nights – but such moments are rare nowadays, especially for civil servants at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute.

The last summer vacations have been interrupted by extensive fires, drought, heat waves, algal blooms or severe floods. If not in our territory, journalists confront us with events from across the globe. The summer 2021 gave us heat records in Europe and North America of 49 oC. In mid-July, heavy rainfall associated with the low-pressure “Bernd” led to severe flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, with more than 200 dead people. This catastrophe was a chock for the entire Europe and started a media storm on climate-change impact on floods.

A month later, a city in Sweden (Gävle) received 2-month average precipitation in one day (165 mm), resulting in severe flooding, with damage on houses and infrastructure. The daily precipitation was the sixth highest recorded in Sweden, and the hourly intensity was the highest ever (100 mm in 2 hours). It is well-recognised that the water cycle will be intensified under global warming as the atmosphere will be able to keep more energy and humidity. We can thus expect extreme events to become more frequent and intense in the future, even though it is difficult to observe trends as the monitored extreme events are still few. For many of us, climate change has mostly been a matter of statistics and model projections.

Personally, I have noticed slow changes with less snow where I live and more bushes when trekking in the Swedish mountains. This summer was a wake-up call on hazards. Now I feel very deeply that climate change is an immediate threat also in my part of the world.

We share the same Planet

The recent IPCC report (AR6) conclude that many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe are human induced and that we need drastic reductions of emissions this decade to reach the Paris Agreement.

As a global citizen, I feel that the scientific work is more important than ever. We do not know the global outcome of neither covid-19 nor climate change, but for sure they both affect our daily life massively.

We urgently need to equip all countries with national warning services and efficient forecasting systems. It is our responsibility, as a scientific community in Earth Sciences, to join efforts to help raising awareness of consequences and to find adaptation measures for society, but also to share knowledge with less economically privileged colleagues and countries.

We share the same Planet and, moreover, striving forward together towards a better future may actually be the ultimate mean for all of us in reaching happiness also on a personal level. I can do small (although very interesting) creations in my summer-house, but together we can do tremendous innovations to save lives and the Planet Earth the way we know it for future generations.

The pandemic has accelerated digitalisation, which gives us new opportunities in science sharing and communication. Collaborative efforts by hydrologists across the globe are needed more than ever and we have the potential – so let’s enjoy our collective capacities and set a sustainable way forward!

To sum up, it is time to get out of the summer cabin and grasp the big picture. We cannot allow climate change and disaster any longer. I hope you will join me in science communication and stakeholder engagement across the globe – we still have time to make a difference!


Edited by Maria-Helena Ramos

Berit Arheimer is head of Hydrological Research at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI). She has a scientific background in integrated catchment modelling, applied science and large-scale hydrology from all populated continents, using and providing open data. Her research focuses on catchment hydrology and modelling at various scales (local, regional, global), hydrological predications and forecasting, assessments of hydrological impacts from climate change, water management or water quality deterioration, and the development of climate services, especially for the water sector.

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