Hydrological Sciences

Being positive and passionate about resilient and smart cities – Interview with Elena Cristiano (ECS Rep)

Being positive and passionate about resilient and smart cities – Interview with Elena Cristiano (ECS Rep)

During our business meeting in the GA 2021, we introduced the Early Career Scientist (ECS) representative Elena Cristiano, elected by the ECS members of the HS division and the Young Hydrologic Society (YHS) for the period 2021-2023 [*].

In this blog post, we asked her some questions to get you know her better, her visions and expectations.

Maria-Helena Ramos (MHR): First of all, I would like to ask you something I’m always curious about when I meet someone volunteering for scientific unions and communities: what prompted you to say “yes, I would like to be the ECS Rep for the EGU HS division” and to apply when we opened the call for candidates?

Elena Cristiano (EC): I’ve been always interested in and attracted by the EGU organization, and more in general by the hydrological community activities. The opportunity to meet and interact with many researchers, to share new ideas and to get inspired are probably the main reasons that pushed me to apply. But I was also interested in giving my contribution to the hydrological community and to support the ECS. Being an ECS myself, I am fully aware of the difficulties and problems that all of us encounter at the beginning of our academic career. I strongly believe that the ECS-HS can offer several opportunities for young researchers, supporting their academic growth, through activities focused on enlarging their network, discussing hydrology and interdisciplinary topics, and obtaining constructive feedback.

Also, I believe that to be a good researcher, you could not just focus on your research topic, but should also be actively involved in the community. From the outside, it might sometimes seem a waste of time, but it gives you (or at least, it is giving me) many opportunities for a personal growth.

Now to actually answer your question on what prompted me to apply, well… I should thank Elena Toth for giving me the right motivation. She was really excited for the creation of an Italian Branch of the Young Hydrologic Society, in which I’m also actively involved, and she was the one suggesting me to volunteer for the EGU HS ECS representative.

MHR: Could you tell us a bit about your background and what do you do in your research?

EC: I graduated in Environmental Engineering at the University of Brescia, mainly focusing on water management, hydrology and sanitary engineering. I did my Master thesis in collaboration with TUDelft, on rainfall as triggering factor for landslides. After graduating, I came back to Delft for a PhD in urban hydrology. I’ve investigated the interactions between spatial and temporal scales of rainfall and small urban catchments. I remember that at the beginning I was quite scared: it was a new topic, different from what I did in the Master thesis. But at the end, it was an interesting challenge and a great experience. After the PhD, I had the opportunity to come back to Italy, working as Post-doc at the University of Cagliari. Here, I found a stimulating group, with whom I’m carrying on several activities in the field of urban hydrology. Thanks to the multilayer green roof prototypes installed in the faculty, we are investigating the flood mitigation capacity of nature-based solutions, analyzing it both at building scale and large urban scale. We are also expanding our research in the field of socio-hydrology and the water-energy-food-ecosystem nexus. I’m really interested in all these topics that can help the sustainable development of resilient and smart cities.

Elena Cristiano at EGU GA in Vienna for the first time in 2015 (left) and at work (right)

MHR: Talking about “urban hydrology”, do you think the HS division is putting enough focus on this topic, or should we do more?

EC: I think it is going in that direction. Probably in the past, urban hydrology was not one of the most popular topics. But we are mostly living in cities, and knowing how to deal with water-related problems, such as floods or water scarcity, is a necessity. Many studies are focusing on mitigation and adaptation strategies to facilitate the sustainable development of urban areas, especially in a context of climate changes. I think it is a fundamental topic that needs to be also faced in a broader context, following a multidisciplinary approach, including, for example, social aspects, such as population dynamics. In this context, the HS division did a big step, with the creation of a new subsection for the EGU GA: “Hydrological Sciences for Policy and Society”. I think it is fundamental to be open for new emerging topics, especially if they are based on a multidisciplinary approach.

MHR: You have been in close contact with the HS division and its organization since the past year or so, but, at the same time, these have been difficult years to in-person meet our members and get to know people better. Hasn’t this situation made the work of ECS reps more difficult? Or, in general, how do you think early career researchers have been (positively or negatively) affected by the past years?

EC: We all agree that the last two years have been very difficult. Everyone dealt, and is probably still dealing, with the pandemic and post-pandemic situation in a different way. I consider myself pretty lucky and “privileged”: during the pandemic I lived in a low-risk area, my family was fine, and I could easily work from home. Of course, not going to the office and not attending conferences limit our opportunity to interact with people, to share our ideas and get inspired. But, we also learned that, in some cases, things can be easily done online. ECS meetings for example are more frequent and accessible for everyone. Especially for young researchers, the lack of travelling funding might be a limiting factor. The list of negative aspects can be pretty long, but I think we should really focus on the positive aspects that we have learned and try to keep them in mind when we will be back to “normal” life.

MHR: What are your expectations as EGU HS ECS rep for the next year?

EC: I think we are already doing a great job reaching a large part of the HS ECS community through the blog and twitter! I hope I can contribute to the organization of activities for the HS ECS, strengthening the collaboration with the Young Hydrologic Society. Hopefully, we will be able to finally meet in person at the GA after two years, so I hope that ECS will have more opportunities to be actively involved. Moreover, we are planning some interesting courses, thought for the HS-ECS, which will be held in a hybrid format to ensure a large participation.

MHR: What do you think could be done (newly, differently, or better) to the benefit of our ECS members in Hydrological Sciences?

EC: I think we should strengthen the collaboration with other organizations for ECS that are working in hydrology (such as AGU-H3S, the Young Hydrologic Society and the related YHS-National Branches) and working in related fields, such as the other EGU divisions. It will be quite stimulating and exciting to have some multidisciplinary activities.

MHR: A final word to our ECS (or senior) members? 

EC: To the ECS, be active! If you have any new ideas just drop us a message! We are working for you, so it is good to know what the ECS expectations are!

To the seniors, push your PhD and young researchers working in your group to be active in the hydrological community! Sometimes we are just scared that these extra activities are not very useful, or we are just not aware of them!

Thanks, Elena, for this interview and I look forward to working more closely with you! 

[*] Since 2020, the HS Division has two ECS Representatives, with terms that overlap over a year, so that work can be easily shared and continued. Currently, they are: Sina Khatami (2020-2022) and Elena Cristiano (2021-2023).

Maria-Helena Ramos is a research scientist in hydrology and hydrometeorology at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) in France. She was the president of the EGU Hydrological Sciences Division from 2019 to 2023.

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