Hydrological Sciences

EGU Guest blogger

This guest post was contributed by a scientist, student or a professional in the Earth, planetary or space sciences. The EGU blogs welcome guest contributions, so if you've got a great idea for a post or fancy trying your hand at science communication, please contact the blog editor or the EGU Communications Officer to pitch your idea.

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

YHS interview Martyn P. Clark: “rainfall-runoff modelling, per se, is dead”

In its “Hallway Conversations” series, the Young Hydrologic Society has recently published an interview with Martyn P. Clark, who is currently professor and the Associate Director of Centre for Hydrology and Canmore Coldwater Lab, at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. The interview was conducted by Sina Khatami, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne. With their agreement, we reproduce below some short extracts of the interview. For the full interview, visit the YHS Blog (here).

Martyn Clark did his undergraduate degree and his Master degree at the University of Canterbury, in New Zealand, and was awarded a PhD degree by the University of Colorado in Boulder. After working back in New Zealand for a while, he came back to the US in 2010 to work at NCAR. You can check the interview he gave to HEPEX in 2016, while in Boulder (see here). In December 2018, he moved to University of Saskatchewan, where he is currently working with new challenges ahead.

Your research spans across a wide range of domains of hydrology, hydro-climatology and model development. How did you expand your knowledge and expertise so widely?

In the early days, it was more of a random walk. My interests evolved into different areas and I pursued opportunities where they were. I read a lot. Even when I was doing my master thesis, I read and read and read. So, I was able to get a fairly good understanding of the literature and identify what the major science questions are. Later on in my career, I’ve been much more strategic than tactical as I was in early stages of my career: thinking about what the big problems are that we want to solve, and how we can go for the funding opportunities out there that lead more towards this larger vision… more of a proactive approach, than a reactive one.

Over the past few years, you’ve become the Editor-in-Chief of WRR (see the EoS interview), moved from public sector (NCAR) to academia and from Colorado to the Canadian Rockies. Each of these decisions are big enough to be a challenge for a few years. So, first, how’re you holding up [I laugh]? And what motivated such major changes?

Well these were more sequential than simultaneous [we laugh]. So, let’s deal with them sequentially. I was asked to apply for the Editor-in-Chief position for WRR. They had a search committee together and they asked me if I would consider doing it. My initial response was no. Then I thought about it for a while. Two things had happened in that year. First, I was promoted to senior scientist at NCAR, which is the top level there. So, I didn’t have any opportunities for additional promotion. And also, I was elected as Fellow of AGU. So, I thought I have kind of established myself in my career and perhaps now is the time to give back to the community more. And there was this opportunity. I was weighing all of my commitments and then thinking about how I could push the field forward. And I thought, well… what good can I do? I thought if I publish, say, two fewer papers a year and be the WRR Editor-in-Chief instead, I can probably do more good and continue along my current trajectory. I was also keen for a new additional challenge.

NCAR is federally funded research and development centre and received a lot of its funding from government and through NSF (National Science Foundation in the USA). The decision to move to the University of Saskatchewan was in part because I wanted the broader challenges that comes with the university setting. And it was in part because of the funding that they already had in place with the Canadian government as part of the Global Water Futures (https://gwf.usask.ca/) programs. This really provided the opportunity to achieve a lot of my research ambitions that I’ve had for many years.

Reviewing and handling numerous papers as WRR Editor-in-Chief has provided you with a big picture of the research community. How is that is influencing your own approach to defining new questions, particularly for your new career line at University of Saskatchewan.

Yes. For my new career at the University of Saskatchewan at Canmore, a wonderful location by the way, we are building up the research program there (https://uofs-comphyd.github.io/). A lot of the research thrusts and the global water futures program are the things that I have been working on over the past twenty years anyway. It is dominated by two main application questions: (1) improving streamflow forecasting methods, and (2) improving assessments of impacts of climate change on water security. Those are the two applied questions that have guided my research on process understanding, model development, strengthening the link between algorithms and theories, etc. It is not as if I’m going to a new research area; I’m going into an area where I have had an extensive presence for a very long time. So, that part of it is not new. But the part that is forcing me to extend myself a little bit is that the funding available is more than an order of magnitude larger than what I ever had before. So, being able to think more strategically, like build up a large cadre of postdocs to answer these questions, or how to orchestrate a large research program — it is really exciting.

Looking back at your research career, what do you think your major breakthroughs are and why?

I think my major breakthrough is quite broad. But I can list some specific papers if you want. Developing a more structured approach to hydrological model development is something that I’ve been working on for many years. The first paper that I really published in that area was my FUSE paper, working with bucket style models. Then my most recent big modelling paper was my SUMMA paper (paper 1 & paper 2) [both are modelling frameworks that allow a user to analyse the impact of individual modelling decision; such as the choice of model structure, the choice of specific flux equations, and the choice of numerical method with which to solve the model equations].

How do you describe your research style? Or, what are the main elements for you when you’re impressed by a piece of research?

For me, personally, I’m really interested in making a step change in our understanding of modelling capabilities. So, most of the major papers that I’m proud of have had a gestation period of more than five years. And so, if you look at my publication history — it’s kind of interesting — I had no first-author research publications in the time period of 2011 to 2015, when I was developing SUMMA. And that can be a little bit dangerous [he laughs] for people at earlier stages of their career. I really wanted to make a major contribution in the way that we develop models. I was worried that a lot of our model development was somewhat ad hoc and we didn’t have the structure that we needed in order to really understand where and what model weaknesses are. I was worried that model evaluation wasn’t done in a controlled way and that we really needed a new framework in order to push forward in those areas.

What would you identify as the main gaps or big picture questions of hydrological sciences for the coming decades that you think early career scientists can pursue?

I think we really need to evolve towards a more interdisciplinary Earth System Science approach to modelling. For many years, hydrology has been rooted somewhat in what was called rainfall-runoff modelling. That term is not really applicable anymore, because we now are modelling a large number of complex interrelated processes in the terrestrial water cycle. So, multi-process modelling in an Earth System modelling context, not just focusing on the short-term fluxes but also the longer-term evolution of our systems. Understanding the evolution of soils in the catchment, understanding the evolution of vegetation in the catchment and understanding how those slowly varying processes feed back on to the higher frequency variability, which has typically been the domain of hydrologists.

And this goes back to the SUMMA paper that you mentioned?

Well that’s just a part of the bigger picture. SUMMA has a more complete representation of the terrestrial hydrological cycle than many hydrological models. But many models already have that level of complexity. SUMMA doesn’t even begin to get into the issues of bio-geochemistry, catchment co-evolution, etc., which are going to be really important. What SUMMA does is provides a structured template for process-based hydrological models which can be extended into the Earth system modelling framework. But it’s nowhere near complete enough of what we need moving toward. So, what I’m talking about is not something that we can do in the next couple of years but something that we need much more concerted effort over the timescales of several decades.

Are there any papers or books that you would like to recommend on this grand idea of expanding the spectrum of processes within current hydrological models towards Earth system modelling?

The first part of the SUMMA paper provides some beginning thoughts in that area but it doesn’t go as far as it needs to. We wrote a paper on improving the representation of hydrological processes on Earth System models. That’s really just beginning to scratch the surface as well. I think the paper that everybody should read is the one led by Ying Fan on providing the link between hillslope hydrology and Earth system modelling that provides lots of pointers in that direction. But it’s funny that you ask that. There’s something that I’ve been kind of stewing on for a while, which is to put together a coherent commentary paper that emphasizes that as a research direction that’s necessary.

You’ve pointed out many great things so far, is there any other advice you may have for young hydrologists?

I think I’ve covered a lot of it already. Be bold. Think about how you can really make substantial advances in the research frontier. Be strategic. You need the incremental progress. You need the intermediate scale products as you are conducting your research so that you can feed the beast [he smiles] and work effectively through the career track. But those intermediate scale products need to be conducted within the context of a larger scale vision. So, really think about defining that vision. Talk about that with your colleagues and keep refining that. And having an idea how your career contributions will really begin to make a difference.

Some guidance would be to think about three levels of strategic planning or technical planning in some respects: (1) what do you want to accomplish in your career? In terms of always keeping that and the longest timescale. (2) What’s the thing that you’re going to present at the next conference? Most people are thinking about those two or perhaps not giving as much attention to the vision aspects as they should. But the third that often gets neglected based on my interactions with people is (3) what are you going to do tomorrow, and the coming week? So, basically organising your activities on the shorter timescale, so that they are feeding the ambitions that you have on the longer timescales, I think is really important.

This might be a somewhat stupid question. Do you have any measures to evaluate a good PhD or postdoc? Like the number of their publications or good publications in a year, etc.

Yeah, this has been my problem. I don’t like the way that people are being judged in academics. There’s a saying that managers know how to count but they don’t know how to read [we both laugh]… In the sense that people are focused too much on outputs, like how many papers you published, than outcomes. I think that things are going to change. I wrote an editorial in WRR on the citation impact of hydrology journals. There I was talking about the need to shift away from quantitative assessments to more qualitative assessments to really begin to measure how people are making a difference in the community. For me that’s the major thing. So, if we get back to what would help people get a job, I can tell you what I’m looking for. Yeah, you need some papers to get on people’s radar screen. If you have finished your PhD and you don’t have any papers then that’s a red flag. But what you really need, in my mind, is to be known for something. That people look at you and say okay that person has done X, or that person has accomplished Y. So, the number of papers that you’ve written become less important. So, what I’m looking for is what have you done to make a difference in the community. And that’s what a lot of other people are beginning to look for more.

I’m curious to know more about this. How would this qualitative assessment process work, to assess the impact of a person on hydrological sciences or even the broader geosciences?

You should read the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which I also referred to in our 2017 editorial paper. DORA comes up with a set of guidelines for funding agencies, universities, managers, etc. to show how they can move towards research assessment practices that are more fair. It has been picked up by a lot of different institutions and universities. A lot of it is there. It’s more just changing the structure of the research assessment. You know there’s not going to be one size fits all template that people can use, but structuring it in a way that emphasises the contributions rather than the specific papers. It takes more work, but we should value our colleagues and take the time to really make sure people’s efforts are directed in productive ways.


Note from the EGU HS Blog Editorial team: In the past EGU 2019 GA in Vienna, EGU organized a debate on “Rewards and recognition in science: what value should we place on contributions that cannot be easily measured”, where DORA was also debated, among others. 

Guest author Sina Khatami is a PhD student at the University of Melbourne (Australia). He is interested in hydrological modelling, uncertainty, and philosophy of science. In his PhD project, he developed a process-based model evaluation method, called Flux Mapping, to gain insights into the internal dynamics of conceptual models. He is also the current Secretary of Young Hydrologic Society and a student member of AGU’s Hydrology Section Hydrological Uncertainty Technical Committee.

Edited by Matthias Sprenger and Maria-Helena Ramos