Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Günter Blöschl Receives 2015 Robert E. Horton Medal

Günter Blöschl was awarded the 2015 Robert E. Horton Medal at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 16 December 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for "outstanding contributions to hydrology."

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Günter Blöschl
Günter Blöschl

Günter Blöschl has been not only a phenomenal researcher, educator, and synthesist but also a visionary leader in catchment hydrology.

Günter’s research has spearheaded a whole-system view that envisions observable spatial hydrologic patterns as manifestations of internal dynamics. Günter’s early work on snow patterns unraveled how patterns of snow albedo, melt, and redistribution are controlled by topography. He devised novel methods to infer the organization of water flow paths from measured soil moisture patterns. He systematically analyzed spatial flood processes to discover regional patterns of rain on snow and flash floods, each having a distinct spatial scaling behavior. He introduced new frameworks for diagnosing flood regime changes across Europe using regional process indicators, permitting attribution of anthropogenic effects. Within the field of sociohydrology he cofounded, he brought out emergent long-term dynamics resulting from two-way feedbacks between humans and floods.

Günter is a true visionary and an innovative thinker, and the many concepts he has introduced have made a huge impact. His scale concepts are used widely across several fields, beyond hydrology. The patterns approach he pioneered has been influential in the way hydrologists look at patterns and processes through the prism of scale. Günter is a synthesizer. Through a synthesis across processes, places, and scales (as part of Predictions in Ungauged Basins) he linked the process representations of low flows, floods, and runoff hydrographs through the concept of water balance, helping to unify the entire field of catchment hydrology.

Günter’s quest for bridging theory and practice has resulted in the adoption of his concept of “flood frequency hydrology,” which enriches statistical approaches with process understanding, by the official flood estimation guidelines in several European countries. The ensemble flood warning system he developed is now used operationally in the Danube River. In these ways, Günter has made a huge impact on both the scientific community and society as a whole. There is no greater evidence of his stature as a geoscientist than his service as president of the European Geosciences Union and his recent election as president of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences.

Günter Blöschl’s innovations grounded in observations, deduction, and theory bear remarkable similarity to the thinking espoused by Robert Horton himself. His visionary and unselfish contributions to the advancement of the field therefore make him a most worthy recipient of the Horton Medal.

—Upmanu Lall, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.

Response

I am delighted to receive this medal and humbled to join the roll of past recipients, including such luminaries as Walter Langbein, Charles Theis, and Mikhail Budyko. I thank Manu Lall for leading the nomination and for his generous citation.

Manu highlighted my work linking patterns to processes. I have always been fascinated by patterns of flowing water and how they come about. One of my favorite pastimes as a child was to sit and watch the flow of water and, where there was an opportunity, to build little dams in mountain creeks or at the beach to divert the water and shape its flow. This may well be the reason why, later in my career, the deductive approach to learning from patterns struck a chord with me. Quoting Sherlock Holmes, “The case is one where we have been compelled to reason backward from effects to causes.” Perhaps we in hydrology too should give greater emphasis to deductions, as opposed to the usual practice of calibrating preconceived models to data, to parallel Sherlock Holmes’s proverbial successes.

Manu also wrote about my passion for bridging theory and practice. I’ve been fortunate to have had Dieter Gutknecht as a mentor who introduced me to hydrology at the crossroads of science and engineering, which soon became second nature to me. Over the years, there have been numerous unexpected synergies, hardly planned but a confluence of circumstances, such as when flood design issues inspired novel estimation methods or when regional process interpretations helped improve practice. The recent 50th anniversary special issue of Water Resources Research again provided an opportunity to reflect on the perennial problem of theory versus practice. As global water pressures mount, interaction between human and water systems is enjoying a great revival, with renewed focus on feedbacks and coevolutionary processes. This is an exciting prospect that, I hope, will lead to a happy synthesis of two theses often mistakenly considered antitheses.

While I take pride in receiving the Horton Medal, I share it with Rodger Grayson, Andrew Western, Ralf Merz, Duro Paraj-ka, Robert Kirnbauer, Alberto Viglione, Bruno Merz, Jan Szolgay, Siva Sivapalan, Hubert Savenije, Alberto Montanari, and many other colleagues, as well as generations of my students, who have greatly shaped my intellectual development. My final words of thanks go to my wife, Elisabeth, and our wonderful children, Roman, Agnes, and Margit, for their love and support over many years.

—Günter Blöschl, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria

Citation: AGU (2015), Günter Blöschl receives 2015 Robert E. Horton Medal, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO041279. Published on 23 December 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0