M. José Polo Gómez

Professor María José Polo Gómez (Spain) is the recipient of the 2022 Dooge Medal (International Hydrology Prize) of IAHS/UNESCO/WMO

For pioneering contributions to understanding snow and river flow dynamics in arid and semi-arid regions

Citation for Professor María José Polo Gómez by Berit Arheimer

Maria Jose is a Professor of hydraulic engineering at the Department of Agronomy of the University of Cordoba and Scientific Head of the Andalusian Institute for Earth System Research.

Her scientific achievements match very well the Doodge medal criteria:

·      She has made outstanding scientific contributions to hydrology.

·      Her contributions have a clear international dimension through participation in many international projects.

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

Maria Jose has accelerated the understanding of snow dynamics and mountain hydrology in arid and semiarid regions. With co-workers she proved that heterogeneity of snow cover plays a significant role in determining the river flow dynamics in arid and semiarid regions; she showed that the high variability in weather produces various accumulation-melting cycles throughout the year, which is reflected in the river flow.

Maria Jose introduced a new monitoring system with the use of landsat imagery, combined with terrestrial photography, to map the distribution of the snow cover under highly variable conditions. She invented a spectral mixture analysis approach that was proven to be a cost-effective method to obtain snow map series, with benefits in terms of uncertainty estimates and algorithm selection for modeling.

Based on her research, Maria Jose then co-developed water and climate services with users for reservoir management, hydropower-plants operation, environmental flow and bed load estimation for ephemeral rivers. 

Finally, Maria-Jose shows outstanding contributions to lAHS and the hydrological community. She is a person who combines leadership skills in dealing both with scientific issues and with people in the scientific community. Within IAHS, she is Vice president of the IC on Remote Sensing since 2015. She is also coordinating the Working Group "Water and energy fluxes in a changing environment" of the Panta Rhei since 2014. She is also active in the European Geosciences Union and is a member of the International Network for Alpine Research Catchment Hydrology.

To sum up: Maria Jose Polo Gomez has changed the field of hydrology through leading the way, and making major contributions, to a coherent understanding of snow dynamics and river flow regime in arid and semi-arid regions. Her impact on science and practice has been enormous. She has served the hydrologic community, including IAHS, in leading roles and is an opinion leader in Spain and internationally. Professor Maria Jose Polo Gomez is therefore a very worthy recipient of the 2022 Dooge Medal.

Response from María José Polo Gómez

Dear Colleagues, dear Friends,

No words can explain my feelings when some months ago I learnt that I was this year’s recipient of the Dooge Medal.

I would like to heartily thank IAHS, UNESCO, and WMO for the great recognition this International Hydrology Prize is. 

Being from Córdoba, a southern city in Spain, I remember when I was a child I enjoyed watering the red brick tiles in my Grandma’s house backyard. They dried up so quickly, that I played with water, and she came always and said “Don’t spill water, wait until tomorrow to clean again”. Being from Andalusia, climate variability and water availability soon became familiar issues. At the same time, water is part of our culture and a way of living in different ways. I was a schoolgirl when the 80’s drought, and a hydrology student when the early 90’s brought the deepest dry spell in Spain since we have records. Then, my field plots during my PhD thesis work suffered from the driest and then wettest years in that decade; so, it was a mess from the point of view of data analysis. Statistical significance, uncertainty… those words became soon my old friends.

When I joined the University staff, GIS-based modelling and remote sensing were quickly developing and very soon scale issues caught my interest. The reading and revisiting of Scale issues in hydrological modelling: a review (Blöschl and Sivapalan, 1995) was a tipping point in my approach to understanding observations, processes, and simulations or forecasts. Later, I was very fortunate to meet these and other relevant researchers in IAHS, EGU and IUGG conferences during the last more than twenty years. I can only feel extremely grateful to this international community of hydrology. With you, I have always found inspiration, key references, and generous support.

I can’t name here all the persons that I can truly acknowledge because I would miss someone, but my gratitude to them, to you as a community, is eternal. And this is important, because ours is a team’s work. I have been very lucky in my life; I think life is a mixture of effort but also luck. And I have worked hard, that is true, but I have been also very, very lucky, so many good people I have found in this journey: teachers, my mentor, colleagues, students…, I’m proud to say that many of them are friends now, and from the beginning, my family. A big thank you to all of them, and to my group, here today: this is also yours, more than fifteen years of passionate work on mountain hydrology, Mediterranean catchments. Thank you for your patience, too.

As a hydrologist, as an engineer, as professor in the School of Agriculture and Forest Engineering in the University of Cordoba, I am strongly convinced that our work as researchers is extremely essential in a warmer and increasingly populated and exhausted world. Ecohydrology, sociohydrology, citizen-science… New terms for an evolving world but, at the end, the need to go deep in why, what, and how is the leitmotiv of our research. Research for a better world. As a professor, my trust in the future generations of professionals, of researchers, is a motivation to keep on learning and exploring new questions with them. I would also like to highlight the visibility that this 2022 Dooge Medal gives to women in science; as the number of girls engaging in STEM careers is decreasing all over the world, I am deeply involved in local programs to motivate this vocation in girls. We can’t give up half of the world’s talent.

Research is a different kind of work, I think (I truly believe); I would say, a different kind of life. At this point, let me thank my parents, my sister and family, my sons, Alvaro and Juan Antonio, for being there, always supportive, always understanding, always my light. You are part of this medal too.

Again, my deep and warm gratitude to IAHS, UNESCO and WMO, and to you all. It is not only a big honour but a large responsibility to stand in this gallery from this point on. Congratulations also to all the colleagues that were awarded today, and congratulations also to IAHS in this one-hundred-year birthday. May the force be with us, may the science be with the world’s future. Thank you!

María J. Polo

Montpellier, 3rd June 2022