F. Chiew

Francis Chiew is the recipient of the 2022 Volker Medal (International Hydrology Prize) of IAHS/UNESCO/WMO

For sustained and outstanding contributions to hydroclimate science and hydrological modelling, and in science application in water resources planning directly benefitting society and the environment.

Citation by Berit Arheimer

Francis Chiew made significant innovations in hydroclimate and hydrological modelling sciences. He is known for his research integrating the best of climate projections, downscaling model outputs, bias correction and hydrological modelling to robustly project hydrological futures including uncertainty quantification. His research on climate elasticity of streamflow and development of a rule of thumb for estimating long-term runoff change from a given climatic change, strikes a balance between fit-for-purpose application versus the more laborious integrated climate- water modelling for detailed water resources planning. 

Francis Chiew was one of the first researchers to quantify the teleconnection between El Niño Southern Oscillation and global streamflow.  His research on runoff prediction  in ungauged and data scarce regions, identified and quantified the challenges in extrapolating hydrological models to robustly predict future hydrological responses under higher temperature. Francis Chiew’s basic scientific contributions then led to significant practical impact.

The breadth and depth of Dr Chiew’s contributions, with collaborations and using data from across the world is widely published, adopted and cited. He is recognized for global water and evapotranspiration synthesis, modelling and trends, predicting cumulative impacts on water from multiple natural and development stressors, remote sensing applications in hydrology, integrated basin modelling and planning, urban hydrology and stormwater quality, and socio-hydrology.

Dr Chiew has been prolific in translating research into tools and guidelines, and engaging with government, industry and stakeholders to inform policy, management and planning in the water and related sectors. His application of research has provided substantial benefit to society and the environment, particularly in Australia, where Francis Chiew has been instrumental in developing software products in a catchment modelling toolkit. Francis Chiew and his team have also made significant impact in developing countries in South Asia and Latin America, through science discourse, stakeholder engagement and integrated basin planning projects leading to improved livelihoods and progress towards sustainable development goals.

Francis Chiew has consistently contributed to scientific community. He is a Lead Author of the IPCC Fifth and Sixth Assessment reports, and is often contributing to UNESCO, WMO and EU workshops. He serves as an Associate Editor of Hydrological Sciences Journal, and contributes to IAHS conferences and to the PUB and Panta Rhei initiatives.

To sum up, Francis Chiew is a very worthy recipient of the Volker Medal.

Response by Francis Chiew

Thank you very much Berit for your kind words.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am very grateful to be awarded the Volker Medal and I thank IAHS, UNESCO and WMO for recognising my contributions to the progress and application of hydrological science. I also thank my colleagues in Australia who initiated and supported my nomination.

An award like this is also a recognition for the many people I have collaborated and worked with, higher degree students, postdocs and colleagues in many disciplines. I thank them for their friendship, their willingness to share knowledge, their passion to make the world a better place, and for the fun we shared along the way.

For me, from growing up in Malaysia to being a hydrologist, and now engaging with international colleagues and global initiatives, was a series of random process. I thank my parents, Daniel and Julie, who instilled in me the importance of hard work, focus and commitment, and for providing me with the opportunity to study overseas.

That was Australia, where upon completing a Civil Engineering degree, I pursued a PhD in integrated surface and groundwater modelling, followed by 15 years in research and academia at the University of Melbourne. I am grateful to Tom McMahon, my teacher and my mentor through the early parts of my career. Together with colleagues like Rodger Grayson, Andrew Western and Murray Peel, we worked on just about everything in hydrology, from doing new research as well as adapting overseas knowledge to apply to Australia’s unique hydroclimate.

I learned the importance of collaboration, and partnership between science and industry, through opportunities in leading the urban stormwater program, and then the hydroclimate variability program, in cooperative research centres co-funded by the Australian Government. I am particularly proud of the many tools and guidelines that we developed that are still being used today by the water industry.

The University of Melbourne, then as is now, was a place that attracted many leading hydrologists from overseas, and it was there that I first met Gunter Bloschl, John Dracup, Tom Piechota, Richard Vogel and Geoff Pegram. Together, we advanced scientific knowledge on global hydrology, climate change impact on hydrology, seasonal streamflow forecasting, climate elasticity of streamflow, flood frequency, drought characterisation and explaining and modelling catchment processes. I was fortunate to win the 2004 IAHS Tison Award for a paper on ENSO and global streamflow teleconnection.

The collaborations led to opportunities in global programs and initiatives, initially in UNESCO and WMO expert workshops, writing technical notes and guidelines, and the FRIEND program, and then with IAHS. I can still remember my first visit to Wallingford right in the middle of a very cold winter. I thank Zbigniew Kundzewich for his support and introduction to the IAHS family through my first associate editor role with the Hydrological Sciences Journal. More recently, I served as Lead Author in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth and Sixth assessment reports. I am deeply honoured and privileged to be part of these, programs that are important not only for the science knowledge and synthesis, but also for the global outreach informing and influencing governments and communities.

I like to commend the IAHS and acknowledge the efforts and camaraderie of the global hydrological community. The many programs and initiatives including the PUB and Panta Rhei decades have been the bedrock for grassroot global hydrological science collaboration and discourse. This is essential as there are still many challenges in hydrology, the main ones outlined in the IAHS 23 unsolved problems. Hydrological science is needed today more than ever, as governments and society grapple with managing water resources and adapting to global changes happening at an unprecedented scale.

After research and academia at the University of Melbourne, I joined CSIRO in 2006 in Canberra as a Science Leader, where I now lead the surface water and basin outcomes group. I am grateful to Rob Vertessy who employed and supported me in CSIRO. The pace became more hectic at CSIRO, working with government and industry on large multi-disciplinary and multi-partnership projects directly informing water resources management and planning. This also included projects in developing countries where the primary objective is almost always about enhancing livelihoods. Nevertheless, realising impact from research is a slow process, and many years later now, we are still trying to address the challenge of meeting competing water demands from agriculture, industry, communities and the environment under a changing climate, development priorities and societal values in south-eastern Australia.

Hydrological science is only one small part of the solution to water security and resilience, but an important part that can hopefully inform better choices by stakeholders and communities, optimum water resource management and operation, and positive government policies.

Finally, I like to thank IAHS, UNESCO and WMO once again for this medal. I am grateful for the support from my wife Mei San who is here with me today and my daughters Meghan and Emily, who have made my life, both professionally and personally, all the more rewarding and interesting.

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