H. Lins

Doctor Harry Lins is the recipient of the 2021 Volker Medal (International Hydrology Prize) of IAHS/UNESCO/WMO

‘For outstanding contributions to the application of science in the enhancement of operational hydrological services around the World’

In his absence the award was received by Johannes Cullmann Director, Climate and Water Department, WMO. 

Nomination of Harry F. Lins by Jan Daňhelka

Since first joining the U.S. Geological Survey in 1971, Harry Lins has without doubt made outstanding contribution to the international application of science to improve operational hydrology to the benefit of society. As a specialist in stochastic hydrology and hydroclimatology, much of his research personal work has focused on surface water responses to climatic drivers, including management of the USGS’s Global Change Hydrology Programme in the 1990s.

Harry’s international activities and recognition dates back over 30 years, including as co-Chair of the Hydrology and Water Resources Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change during development of its First Assessments Reports (1989-1992).

It is arguably however Harry’s work over the last three decades with the World Meteorological Organization that he has had the most impacts on the application of hydrology for the benefit of society, particularly in the global south. Following regional roles within the WMO community and two four-year terms as a Member of the Commission for Hydrology’s Advisory Working Group, since 2012 to 2019 Harry has served as a President of the Commission. In this role he has lead a global community of National Hydrological Services in their collaborations to improve operational water resources assessment, flood forecasting, hydrometric data collection and many other areas. These eight years under his leadership has been extremely successful in delivering services and developing new efficient and effective activities. Harry has developed a reputation for supporting hydrologists across WMO’s regions from those based in the least-developed countries to those at the forefront of applying research to enhance operational services. As a strong proponent of the role of operational hydrology in the management of freshwater systems and disaster risk reduction, he has raised the profile of such work on the global stage within the intergovernmental and research communities.

As a scientist, Harry has authored more than 60 scientific papers and several book chapters and is recognized for his achievements in his field. Importantly however, he has never been satisfied with the generation of scientific results alone, but instead worked tirelessly to convert them to practical applications for stakeholders in the US and internationally. Among many others activities, he played a leading role in the co-development of several operational products and initiative. These include the USGS WaterWatch portal (which aimed to support decision making in water resources management across the US), the WMO’s World Hydrological Observing System (which provides a framework for hydrological data sharing which is now being applied in basins around the world) and, most latterly, the WMO Global Hydrometry Support Facility (which provides practical solutions to enhance water monitoring capacity and innovation, particularly in developing countries). These, along with the vast array of other activities Harry has spearheaded over his career have had a galvanizing influence, bringing together hydrologists, meteorologists, the international development community and many others to provide tangible support to those organizations around the world that seek to enhance water management for the benefit of the wider population.

In his role of the President of the Commission for Hydrology, he always sought to bring scientific community closer to the National Hydrological Services community of the WMO and vice-versa. He enhanced cooperation between WMO and IAHS and helped to build many personal and professional connections between them. But was personally involved in several IAHS activities e.g. as associated editor of Hydrological Sciences Journal in 2011, co-editor of one of the Red books (IAHS pub. No. 239), or recently as guest editor of special issue of the Hydrological Sciences Journal Hydrological Data: Opportunities and barriers dealing with transferring of research to practice. Given his main research topic in statistical hydrology he actively participated to several events of STAHY, and contributed to developing joint activities of MOXXI and WMO.

Harry in my view represents a hydrologists, who always consider broad context of hydrological problems and challenges in a broad natural processes, as well as societal context. In closing, let me express my sincerest belief that the all mentioned above have happened thanks to the fact that Harry Lins has been able to combine his research skills and experience with a detailed understanding of the need for practical solutions and implementation of research outputs to practice.

I am deeply convinced, that Dr Harry F. Lins’ career represents to perfection, the spirit of Volker medal, and as such he is the most appropriate candidate for this award know to me.

Response of Harry Lins

I am honored by, and sincerely grateful to the IAHS, UNESCO, WMO, the nominators, and the selection committee for the bestowal of this award.  It is especially meaningful as many of the previous recipients of this award are friends and colleagues, and all are distinguished hydrologists.  I am humbled to have my name listed among theirs. 

Receiving an award such as this reflects more than just the contributions of the recipient.  It bespeaks the environment within which they worked and the mentors, managers, and colleagues who supported them throughout their career.  In my own case, I had the great good fortune of working for 42 years in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an organization with a long and outstanding reputation for contributions to hydrological research, data collection, and support to the broader water resources community.   The managers at USGS fostered a working environment with many degrees of freedom to pursue new, novel, and creative solutions to problems in surface-, ground-, and quality of water.  My career benefited particularly from the perennial guidance, colleagueship, and friendship of one such leader, Robert Hirsch, who was a distinguished researcher both before and after serving as the Chief Hydrologist of USGS from 1994-2008 as well as the Geological Survey’s Acting Director from 1993-94.  

In addition, other USGS colleagues were instrumental, indeed essential to the success of several of my hydrological pursuits over the years.  These included Jim Slack, who was my collaborator for many years on investigations of trends in streamflow across the entire flow regime, and analyses of hydroclimatic variability; Dave Wolock, my co-developer of WaterWatch, the first online map-based interface for real-time and historical streamflow conditions for the United States; and the late Tim Cohn, who guided me patiently through the process of understanding the critical importance of long-term persistence (LTP) in the behavior of geophysical processes.  Importantly, it was through my collaborative work with Tim on LTP that we came into the orbit of Demetris Koutsoyiannis and Alberto Montanari, who have both become collaborators and friends and greatly expanded our understanding of the stochastics of hydroclimatic extremes.   As everyone here is no doubt aware, both Demetris and Alberto are previous recipients of the Dooge Medal.

An important aspect of my career with respect to criteria of import in awarding the International Hydrology Prize, particularly the Volker Medal, stems from my nearly 30-year association with the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission for Hydrology (CHy).  As USGS is the National Hydrological Service of the United States to the World Meteorological Organization, it has a long association with WMO going back to the establishment of the Commission for Hydrology (originally hydrometeorology) in 1961.  My involvement with WMO began in the late 1980s, when the First Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created, and I was asked to serve as the co-chair of its hydrology and water resources working group along with Igor Shiklomanov (another International Hydrology Prize winner).  Over the years I served on several CHy committees and, in 2004, was elected to the Commission’s Advisory Working Group.  Then, in 2012, I was elected president of the Commission and served in this role until 2019.  It was during this period that I most closely worked with hydrological services and organizations, particularly in the developing world, to enhance capabilities in data collection, data management, and in providing such data and information to managers of water resources in countries where data and data sharing was limited.  Along the way, I was able to devise and establish the WMO Hydrological Observing System (WHOS) with my colleague and CHy vice-president Silvano Pecora, as well as guide the implementation of the WMO Global Hydrometry Support Facility (HydroHub); both of which provide a critical basis for free and open access to hydrological data worldwide.  Now, with the support of Johannes Cullman and several colleagues at WMO, I continue to assist in using these capabilities to develop and implement a State of the World’s Water Report, which will be a simple, map and graphical summary report of water resource conditions (initially focused on streamflow and runoff) worldwide on an annual basis.  It is intended to serve as a hydrological counterpart to WMO’s annual State of the Climate report and will hopefully provide an easy to interpret and accessible ongoing summary of water conditions around the world, including a review of notable high and low flows.

In summary, I have been blessed to live during a time of great advancement in the hydrological sciences and to be part of the challenges and frustrations of that advancement.  I am also privileged to have been part of a community of bright and dedicated engineers and scientists that seek answers to some of society’s biggest problems; namely, those associated with the availability of clean fresh water.  I look forward to continue helping provide these answers, and I once again thank all those who have supported me throughout my career, and in honoring me with the 2021 Volker Medal.  Thank you.


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