Water science will play an increasingly important role for the benefit of humanity during the next decades, as water will be the key to ensuring adequate food and energy resources for future generations. The interrelation between water and humans is as old as humans themselves. The famous diagram by Robert Fludd (1574-1637) includes water as one of the four essential elements, along with earth, air, and fire. Indeed, challenges associated with water have marked human history and will be more and more prominent at the global level in the coming years. Climate dynamics, ecological systems, biological diversity, and diseases of humans and other species are intimately related to water: alterations of the water cycle impact people and society by affecting their links with the overall Earth system.

With such a premise, it is not surprising that the discipline of hydrology, which is rooted in engineering to solve real water problems, emerged in the last 50 years as a primary field of geosciences. If one were to study the evolution of hydrology and water resources management in the past five decades, a few journal titles would emerge, including the leading journal in the field: Water Resources Research (WRR). The 50th anniversary of WRR is an occasion to reflect on past research activity and anticipate the exciting future where hydrologists will play a fundamental role to improve our knowledge of the Earth system, climate, and water resources.

WRR  has published a special collection of original papers to celebrate the anniversary of the journal and the important research published there. This collection is an ideal follow up to the special issue edited by Steven Burges in 1986 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of WRR. Almost 30 years later, this issue is still a milestone, providing useful references for both young and senior hydrologists. The ambition of the current Editors of WRR is to offer a similar inspiration for current and future generations of hydrologic scientists by presenting another outstanding collection of papers that provide an overview of the most advanced research in water science, including papers on the legacy of hydrological sciences; water processes interpretation and modeling; and water resources, society and water threats.

The special collection makes clear that the framework of the science of hydrology is quickly evolving through a change of scales. The attention of researchers is rarely dedicated to the single process or the single site; the focus is shifting from local to global spatial scales, from short to longer time scales, from individual hydrologic processes to an integrated analysis of the water cycle, with increasing interdisciplinary connections and international cooperation among researchers. Emphasis on new monitoring techniques, and remotely sensed data, offer exciting opportunities for observing hydrological processes across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Advanced monitoring is also a means to characterizing heterogeneity and quantifying its effects. New ideas and models are needed to profit from ever increasing information.

The target for hydrology in the 21st century must be ambitious. There are relevant and global water problems to solve and there is a compelling need to ensure sustainable development of the human community. WRR will continue to point out that water science needs to evolve to address the scientific challenges posed by our era. Water science must evolve at the global level, to minimize inequalities between genders, across the continents and across the ethnic groups. Water is a unifying element, and water science will be vital to ensure that humans and our planet co-evolve sustainably.

—Alberto Montanari, Editor in Chief, Water Resources Research; email: alberto.montanari@unibo.it

View the transcript of the Reddit Ask Me Anything with Alberto Montanari here.


Montanari, A. (2015), Celebrating hydrology research though 50 years of WRR, Eos, 96, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO039329. Published on 11 November 2015.

Text © 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.