A. Montanari

Professor Alberto Montanari is the recipient of the 2019 Dooge Medal (International Hydrology Prize) of IAHS/UNESCO/WMO

For pioneering contributions to understanding hydrological systems in the presence of environmental and climatic change.

Left to right: Christophe Cudennec (Secretary General IAHS), Johannes Cullmann (Director, Climate and Water Department WMO), Anil Mishra (UNESCO), Alberto Montanari (Dooge Medal Recipient) Günter Blöschl (President IAHS)

Citation given by Professor Günter Blöschl 

Alberto Montanari, Professor of Hydrology and Water Resources Management and Dean at the University of Bologna, is a perfect match to the scope of the Dooge Medal since he scores very highly on all of its criteria:

·   He has made fundamental scientific contributions to hydrology, as evidenced by a very solid publication record that has had a major impact on the discipline.

·   His contributions have a clear international dimension including.

·   He has made outstanding contributions to the hydrologic community as demonstrated by his long-term active involvement in IAHS and other associations.

Fundamental scientific contributions: Alberto Montanari has made fundamental contributions to the understanding of hydrologic change through physically-based stochastic modelling. Whereas, in the past, change was often treated in an ad hoc way, Alberto’s new conceptual developments have led to a coherent understanding of change, long-range variability and the associated uncertainties. His impact was probably largest in three areas:

Long range functioning of hydrological systems: Alberto developed a mathematical framework, based on fractional differentiation, for the detection and modelling of long term persistence of hydrologic time series, i.e. how the long term changes can be understood and quantified. His novel contribution was not only to obtain a more accurate representation of the long term behaviour of stream flow, even more importantly, he provided a physical explanation of the Hurst effect, i.e., the presence of long term persistence, in terms of catchment storage and climate variability, and how these varied between catchments. He demonstrated that the model is more accurate than alternative models and outlined how the model parameters can be estimated in a robust way. This paved the way for the application of his model in a range of disciplines.

Uncertainty of changing systems: Building on the recognition that long range dependence tends to cause substantial uncertainties when predicting hydrologic systems, Alberto developed a probabilistic uncertainty estimation approach to non-stationary conditions. In his seminal WRR paper in 2004 and related publications he proposed a new paradigm of estimating the probability distribution of the runoff model error, conditioned on simulated runoff for the same point in time. The key idea was to allow the probabilistic structure of the predictive error to evolve in time. This relaxed the usual requirement of stationary model errors and made the model applicable to a much wider – and more realistic – set of problems. The impact of the combined set of papers from this research focus was immense with more than 500 citations in the Web of Science. 

Synthesis of change assessment approaches: Alberto has always pursued his research strands in a coherent and coordinated manner, so synthesizing them into a unifying framework. In this novel framework, presented in his 2012 WRR paper and related publications, randomness and therefore uncertainty, is treated as an inherent property of hydrological systems which contrasts with the traditional approach that treats them separately. The framework combines a stochastic treatment with physical relationships and thus permits the testing of multiple working hypotheses and model structures which eliminates the need for an a priori choice of a particular model. In line with his previous approaches, the new framework accounts for time changes of the model error statistics, which makes it applicable to a changing hydrologic systems exhibiting long-range persistence.

International dimension - detecting and attributing regional change: It was a logical step for Alberto to extend his research thrust on understanding hydrologic change to the spatial dimension. In a set of influential papers he detected spatial patterns of change in flood impact and attributed them to changes in the hydrological and human systems. His 2010 GRL paper identified dramatic increases of flood fatalities in Africa in the past decades and explained them by migration patterns from rural to urban areas which led to intensive and unplanned human settlements in the flood plains. The paper was highlighted by GRL, received substantial coverage in the AGU Blogosphere and other media, and was used in the 2012 IPCC report. Alberto had the brilliant idea of analyzing satellite nighttime lights to more specifically track settlement patterns over time. This immediately allowed him to assess hydrological change globally. Not surprisingly, his research output had a phenomenal impact on hydrology and beyond. The satellite nighttime lights revealed increasing human exposure to floods and how the exposure differs between countries and continents as a result of economic and cultural patterns. Again, the response to this body of research, summarized in a 2014 GRL paper was immense, including a WIRED-Science Graphic of the Week.

Outstanding contributions to IAHS and the hydrological community: Closely aligned with his scientific contributions, Alberto Montanari has been tasked to play influential, leading roles in a number of arenas. He has been the Editor in Chief of Water Resources Research where his intellectual leadership, e.g. through moderating debates, has had a substantial influence on the field. He is currently the President of the European Geosciences Union, a testimony of his elevated international reputation. He was the Italian national IAHS representative during 2011-2015. Perhaps even more importantly, his change framework has been the intellectual cornerstone of the Panta Rhei scientific decade of the IAHS (2013-2022) that focuses on hydrological change. Alberto masterminded the writing of its science plan and infused his vision of a unified treatment of stochastic modeling and uncertainty assessment into the greater hydrological community. The web based discussion within Panta Rhei has received more than 80 000 visits, the Alberto’s kick-off paper published in 2013 in the Hydrological Sciences Journal has received more than 200 ISI citations already, and the initiative resulted in the formation of 30 very active working groups involving 400 researchers from around the world that have already published more than 50 papers themselves, all inspired by Alberto’s synthesis framework.

In summary, Alberto Montanari has changed the field of hydrology through leading the way, and making major contributions, to a coherent understanding of hydrologic change and the associated uncertainties. His impact on science and practice was enormous. He has served the hydrologic community, including IAHS, in leading roles and is an opinion leader in Italy and internationally. Professor Alberto Montanari is therefore a very worthy recipient of the 2019 Dooge Medal.

Günter Blöschl, IAHS President


Response by Alberto Montanari

Dear Colleagues, Friends, Students,

I feel very honoured to receive the International Hydrology Prize – Dooge Medal – from IAHS, UNESCO and WMO. I have the highest consideration for this recognition that is bestowed by three associations with a long history of continuous efforts to promote water science and sustainable development. In fact, the past recipients are role models who made fundamental contributions to hydrology and engineering. In the early 2000s, I had the fortune of meeting several times Prof. Jim Dooge who received the International Hydrology Prize in 1983. I was deeply impressed by his many-sided mind-set. He was a great scientist, an excellent engineer and a wise politician.

When I was informed that I was the recipient of the 2019 Dooge Medal I felt humbled and excited. At the same time, I felt very grateful to the persons that inspired and supported my passion for scientific research and my service to the scientific community. In fact, since the beginning of my career I was convinced that my research activities should always be associated with supporting scientific associations and the community as a whole. I was very lucky to be a member of truly open societies. Working for the IAHS, the IUGG, the EGU and the AGU was a natural consequence of being one of their members, attending their conferences with interest and being open to contribute in any possible way. I am pleased to say that I was very lucky to encounter along my path an uncountable number of interesting, open and inspiring persons who became my mentors, colleagues and, in some cases, friends. I prefer not to acknowledge any specific person by name, but I am pleased to express my gratitude to the past and present IAHS officers. I think IAHS has a unique flavour, I believe it is a very creative environment where I always felt at home. These communities do not originate by mere chance, but rather from the continuous efforts of illuminated persons to whom I will be grateful for the rest of my life.

I am extremely grateful to my colleagues and students at the University of Bologna. I was once again lucky to have the opportunity to work with highly motivated persons with a very positive attitude. My university was and still is supportive to an extent that I will never forget.

When receiving recognitions I always like to look at the future, to figure out what the next research challenges will be for the current and next generation of scientists. To ensure a bright future, scientists need to evolve by profiting from their legacy and preserving their essential role. Communication is increasingly important in science, as well as the dialogue with policy makers. Therefore scientists increasingly face the temptation of adopting eye-catching communication strategies and getting actively involved in policy making. While in principle there is nothing wrong with that, I think we need to keep in mind that the role of scientists is to present data, methods and results with a transparent, reproducible and objective approach. The pursuit of objectivity increases the credibility of scientific advances, and expands society’s willingness to trust and use the new knowledge and understanding science provides. Furthermore, objectivity helps scientist to use a more understandable language when speaking to the public.

I firmly believe that water resources research will become even more essential to ensure a sustainable future for humanity. Water has traditionally been seen as a local problem. Actually, the recent development of society at the international level clearly highlights the global dimension of water research and therefore the need to strengthen international cooperation in hydrology. According to the Global Risk 2015 Report of the World Economic Forum, global water crises are the biggest threat of the planet over the next decade. For the first time, water was ranked top for impact. The World Economic Forum also highlights that water crises are one of the main drivers of social tensions, political instability and migration. It is clear that hydrology, together with sister disciplines, is essential for solving the above problems. However, the role of hydrology is often not adequately considered and communicated. This is an unfortunate situation that hydrologists need to resolve by seeking an improved cohesion of the community, while preserving the value of scientific debate and disagreement. In fact, a global and unified effort is needed to provide objective and transparent support to policy makers. As scientists, we need to speak up in support of international connections, diversity and equality of opportunities, as these are essential ingredients for a successful research activity.

I would like to close by sharing with you two personal considerations that are very close to my heart.

The first is a profound gratitude to my original and current families. In particular, I would like to thank my wife Flavia and my son Nicolo’ for being very patient with me. I am a commuting professor and researcher and, therefore, my time spent at home is often limited. I have always received from my family a positive and lovely support; I am really grateful to them for their patience and love.

The second is a heartfelt thought to the many desperate people that are continuously losing their life in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to migrate towards a better future. Their hopes frequently evolve into a terrible death or a desperate struggle to find a new home. I am living in Italy and therefore this tragedy is happening just behind the corner. I can’t believe that modern society cannot find a solution to this humanitarian emergency.

I would like to reiterate my profound gratitude to IAHS, UNESCO and WMO and to you all. Thank you!

Alberto Montanari

IAHS-WMO-UNESCO Dooge Medal Lecture: "To change or not to change, that is the question" - Montreal, July 12, 2019 is available at http://albertomontanari.it

  back to top