Indian-American professor wins creativity award for research on water, creating new scientific field

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Murugesu ‘Siva’ Sivapalan. (Photo: las.illinois.edu, courtesy Dept of Geography and Geographic Information Science)

Murugesu “Siva” Sivapalan, professor of geography and civil and environmental engineering, was awarded the eighth biennial Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water, a renowned global scientific award that recognizes scientists, researchers, and inventors for their creative and effective methods of addressing water scarcity,the University of Illinois in Chicago announced July 17.

The Creativity Prize was given to the Indian-American professor and his colleague, Günter Blöschl, professor at the Vienna University of Technology, for their cutting-edge interdisciplinary scientific work in a water-related field. They and another team from the University of Manchester (U.K.) will share a cash prize of one million Saudi Riyals ($267,000), which will be presented at an awards ceremony later this year at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

In 2012, Sivapalan and Blöschl launched a new scientific field, socio-hydrology, to examine the two-way interactions between people and water systems. Their theoretical and practical work in this area is considered groundbreaking and has helped geographers, hydrologists, and engineers better understand and manage the physical and social processes behind changing water cycles in the face of population growth and climate change, the University said in a press release.

Many bodies of water around the world are not equipped with stations to measure their rise and fall, or changes to their surrounding landscapes from flooding, drought, and human engineering.

Sivapalan and Blöschl have been widely recognized for developing groundbreaking tools to predict such changes in these “ungauged” bodies of water.  They compiled data from more than 20,000 watersheds from around the world to provide the first-ever global assessment of flood prediction performance across distinct climate and landscape gradients. Their work on socio-hydrology extended these predictions from the space to the time (long-term) dimension.

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