J. McDonnell

The Dooge medal of the 2016 International Hydrology Prize of IAHS/WMO/UNESCO goes to Professor Jeffrey J. McDonnell

"For outstanding contributions to watershed hydrology and global leadership in advancing rainfall–runoff process understanding"

Left to Right:  Blanca Jiménez-Cisneros (UNESCO), Jeffrey McDonnell (Dooge Medal Recipient), Hubert Savenije (President, IAHS), Tommaso Abrate (WMO), Christophe Cudennec (Secretary General, IAHS).

Citation given by Prof. H. Savenije at the 12th Kovacs Colloquium at UNESCO in Paris, France on 15th June 2016.

Prof. Jeff McDonnell has made fundamental and sustained contributions to the science of hydrology, shaping our modern understanding of rainfall­-runoff processes.

He has been active in research since 1990 and is the worlds most cited field hydrologist. Like Dooge, his life’s work has been a search for hydrologic laws and his published work can be grouped in three main themes:

(1)   process studies of streamflow generation,

(2)   isotope tracing of water flowpaths and residence times,

(3)   development of new watershed model structures and evaluation measures.

In terms of process studies, Jeff’s work has identified new theory and behavior at the hillslope and catchment scale including: macro-pore flow of old water, his fill and spill hypothesis of runoff generation, and understanding of the way in which different topographic units of the catchment sequence.

The Elsevier text "Isotope Tracers in Catchment Hydrology" that he edited with Carol Kendall in 1998 outlined the breadth of the new field of isotope hydrology. In his own isotope tracing work, he has connected tracking of water with O18 and D with hydrometrics. This has been incorporated into new modeling approaches where he has introduced new concepts like ‘soft data’, ‘virtual experiments’,  and transit time as multi-criteria model target. More recent work has explored eco-hydrological controls on streamflow behavior, revealed in a 2010 Nature-Geoscience paper that plants use water not seen in streamflow and vice versa. The disconnect between the two water worlds that he and his co-workers revealed, is a breakthrough in our understanding of how the hydrological system functions.

For the body of work resulting from this avenue, Jeff has received over a dozen major awards and in the past 10 years alone. Jeff is a:

·         Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

·         Fellow of the Geological Society of America,

·         Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and

·         Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

He has been awarded the John Dalton Medal by the European Geosciences Union; the Gordon Warwick Medal by the British Society for Geomorphology; the Warren Nystrom Award by the Association of American Geographers; and the Canterbury Earth Science Prize by the Geological Society of New Zealand.

Prof. McDonnell has been active in IAHS since 1995.

He was President of the IAHS Commission on Tracers from 2001-­05 and

Chair of the Prediction in Ungauged Basins (PUB) initiative from 2005-­07.

He served from 1999-­2006 as Associate Editor of the Hydrological Sciences Journal.

He was Editor in Chief of the very successful IAHS book series "Benchmark Papers in Hydrology" that included 9 volumes between 2006­-14.

From 2006-­09 Jeff was member of the UNESCO PUB-HELP-­FRIEND Technical Working Group, leading the authorship of a vision paper in HP on the role of IAHS In fostering leadership in international hydrology.

From 2004­-07 he was a Representative of UNESCO HELP Program and network of hydrological observatories.

From 2003-­06 he served as member of the IAPSO-­IAHS Joint Commission on Groundwater­-Seawater Interactions.

He worked as a main program planner for the 2007 IAHS-­IUGG General Assembly in Perugia, Italy.

When he was PUB Chair, he hosted the USA PUB Workshop in Corvallis Oregon that attracted participants from 21 countries.

Jeff has been an international leader on many fronts, demonstrating unusual international leadership in bringing scientists together and mentoring young scientists.

An important aspect of Jeff’s life’s work has been his engagement with young researchers. Beyond his own lab group, Jeff has led active training programs through his international short courses. This includes the “Catchment Science Summer School” at the University of Aberdeen that has now trained 180 PhD students in the past 6 years from universities across Europe. He has also delivered short courses at the University of Arizona, Universidad Austral de Chile, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Instituto de Radioproteção e Dosimetria, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Similarly, he teaches an Isotope Hydrology course for the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, and has trained >100 graduate students through courses in Brazil, Chile, China and The Philippines. Jeff has been a tireless supporter of new career scientists with his ‘Launching an Academic Career’ course, aspects of which have been taught at EGU, AGU and at a dozen universities in Europe and Asia.

Prof. McDonnell is a highly prolific, internationally recognized scholar of undeniable influence and current international leadership. Therefore, it is my great honour and pleasure to award the 2016 Dooge medal to Prof. Jeff McDonnell: "For outstanding contributions to watershed hydrology and global leadership in advancing rainfall–runoff process understanding"

June 2016

Hubert Savenije
President of IAHS,
The International Association of Hydrological Sciences


Response from Prof. J. McDonnell

Dear friends,

Thank you very much Huub for your extremely kind words and for this tremendous honor. I am bursting with gratitude and so very thankful to the IAHS, WMO and UNESCO for my selection. Of course, my winning this rests squarely on my PhD students and Post Docs who, over the years, have been my true academic calling and greatest source of job satisfaction. I value their continued friendship and know many will go well beyond any modest progress I have made in the field.

Standing here at UNESCO in Paris I remember Mike Bonell—long time UNESCO hydrologist and close personal friend. Mike led the UNESCO HELP initiative and many other programs and is known by many as the father of tropical hydrology. He is greatly missed. Another figure who is greatly missed of course is Jim Dooge—namesake of this award. I met Jim when we invited him to Oregon State University to give a distinguished lecture. It was well after his formal retirement. I recall an inspiring man (scientist, politician, statesman); one who very much lived-up to the hero status I had him in, following his 1986 paper ‘Searching for Hydrologic Laws’. It is a paper that has influenced me greatly, coming out of the first year of my PhD studies.

When I look at the list of past awardees, I have trouble believing that I am in such company- although I may be the first ‘field hydrologist’ to win the prize. If I am correct in this assessment, it would be remiss of me not to mention some of the many great field hydrologists who came before me: John Hewlett, Tom Dunne and Tim Burt to name just a few. On behalf of them and those who spend countless hours in the rain, thank-you.

Field hydrology is a plodding science. And often not very sexy. But in an era of steep decline in field-based, curiosity driven research and in many cases, almost complete reliance in computer modeling, field study of basic hydrological processes is needed more than ever. My hope is that professional societies, governments and funding bodies will devote increased efforts to empirical data collection and interpretation if we are to improve our understanding of how catchments store and release water.

I thought it might be useful to briefly reflect on how I got here for any graduate students reading these remarks because it is sometimes difficult for new graduate students to see a path forward for themselves in an ever-crowded field like hydrology. For me, it began with loving and supportive parents. If my Dad was alive today, he’d likely be alerting his home-town newspaper in South Wales of this award. My mum, Goldie McDonnell is here today - and I’m so thankful to share this moment with her. If my Dad taught me hard work; she taught me focus; and devoted much of her young life to my musical study - something I know helped me in my scientific study.

The rest of it perhaps was a combination of a passion for field work and a grizzly bear encounter.

I started off at the University of Toronto thinking that I would become an exploration geophysicist. After a summer in the Yukon and several close-call grizzly bear encounters (one spent up a tree for many hours), I realized that I was not quite the outdoorsman I thought I was, and sought refuge in a kinder and gentler discipline: hydrology.

After a Masters degree at Trent University, I got the research bug and New Zealand and the University of Canterbury offered both adventure and a welcome bear-free environment for field work. Some terrific Kiwi advisors included: Colin Taylor, Ian Owens, Andy Pearce and Mike Stewart. I also have two early mentors to thank: Brian Greenwood and Tony Price at the University of Toronto who gave me my first opportunities in the field. I had other mentors through graduate school who at the time had no idea they were mentoring me - but I so admired their work and I tried early on to emulate: Mike Sklash, Malcolm Anderson, and Keith Beven.

Lastly, I want to thank a few my close colleagues who I have shared research fun with at Utah State University (Chris Neale and Dave Tarboton), the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Myron Mitchell, Don Siegel and Jim Hassett) and continue to work with at Oregon State University (Gordon Grant, John Selker and many others), the University of Aberdeen (Doerthe Tetzlaff and Chris Soulsby) and the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan (Howard Wheater and Phani Adapa).

Finally, I share this wonderful day with my wife Veva here with me today and my children John and Meghan, who are each transitioning this year to their own graduate school next steps. I wish them as exciting an adventure as I have had. It is fitting to reflect once again on Jim Dooge in this regard - a renaissance man and all-rounder if there ever was one - inspirational to all young people starting off to go after a life full of diverse interests, experiences and adventures.

Jeff McDonnell, June 15, Paris

  back to top