Geology & Geophysics Editors' Vox

The Evolution of Water Resources Research

The outgoing Editor in Chief of Water Resources Research reflects on his tenure and expresses appreciation to all those who contributed to the success of the journal.

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I would like to thank the community for their support for my leadership of Water Resources Research (WRR) over the past four years. I know that I speak for all Editors in saying that it has been a remarkable term for us. The scientific aspects of WRR cannot be easily separated from the political environment in which we operate. Our term was bookended by the start and end of the Trump presidency: it started with our reaction to the marginalization of science (the Earth and Space Science is Essential for Society special collection) and concluded with our adjustments to the way science is done during the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve certainly seen some challenges along the way, and I think that we have helped the hydrologic science community thrive.

In the past four years we have seen growth in several key areas. We have published many new science advances on cryospheric research, especially on snow hydrology. We have also published many new science advances in large-domain hydrological modelling, especially global hydrology. Other areas of growth include research on coupled human-natural systems, Earth System change, and machine learning. It’s terrific to see the community evolve in these new directions.

Successes and challenges

WRR has substantial strengths. I think that WRR’s most distinguishing characteristic is interdisciplinary research. We celebrate the fact that the hydrological sciences are a wickedly interdisciplinary enterprise. The journal is also distinguished by scientific rigor: we expect major science advances in each research article. WRR also continues to have a high-quality (and fair) review process. Reviewers go out of their way to provide extensive and constructive feedback, and for papers that receive reject without review decisions, Editors and Associate Editors provide detailed feedback to authors.

WRR is also a strong part of the hydrological sciences community, having a close relationship with the AGU Hydrology Section; additionally, WRR has a strong presence at the AGU Fall Meeting (e.g., the Centennial sessions, the WRR science advances session). The community wants WRR to succeed.

WRR will also encounter some challenges moving forward. A key challenge is to cleanly separate the scientific aspects of publishing from the commercial aspects. Historical challenges have included standing up to criticisms on the large number of rejected papers, advocating for reasonable open access publishing costs, and pushing back on initiatives to include advertisements in WRR papers.

Another challenge is including the extent to which FAIR principles are addressed in the review process (that models and data be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable). Specifically, should code be reviewed? Should data be reviewed? And how should this be done? Should reviewers be responsible for running test cases and commenting on the organization/structure of models and datasets?

A further challenge is how to handle hot topics in hydrology, specifically socio-hydrology and machine learning. For socio-hydrology, how can we manage the interdisciplinary nature of the science advances, especially building on the extensive research on coupled human-natural systems that is done by other communities? For machine learning, how can we effectively document both the new capabilities offered by machine learning as well as the limitations of machine learning models?

Hopes for the future of WRR

A key change on the horizon is the potential transition to open access. Open science is perhaps the most important paradigm shift in the recent history of scholarly publishing: We have open data and open models, but closed publications.

Changes in publishing models mean that more of the responsibility for open science is devolved to individuals. We have been transitioning away from a system where institutions pay (i.e., institutional libraries pay journal subscriptions on behalf of its readers). We are transitioning towards a system where many authors are responsible for paying article processing charges from grant funding or other sources.

These shifts in financial responsibility create dissonance between individual self-interest and the common good. Open science (and thus open access) can benefit the common good because the science is freely available; individual self-interest can be shaped by an unwillingness to pay.

These issues were evaluated in depth by the AGU Hydrology Section Open Access Task Force: The path forward requires weighing the financial feasibility of alternative cost models against the common good of open science. The inherent value of open science should frame any open access decision. 


In closing, I would like to offer some words of thanks. I’d like to thank our team of Editors: Jean Bahr, Marc Bierkens, Jim Hall, Stefan Kollet, Charlie Luce, Jessica Lundquist, Scott Mackay, Ilja van Meerveld, Xavi Sanchez-Vila, Peter Troch, and Ellen Wohl. I’d also like to thank the Associate Editors, who are the lifeblood of the journal and make the whole operation possible; we have appreciated their thoughtful and constructive recommendations. Moreover, thanks to the reviewers. With more than 2,000 submissions per year, we rely on the community more than ever for thoughtful and constructive reviews. Thanks to them for maintaining WRR’s high standards. And finally, thanks to the AGU Publications staff, especially Erin Syring and Phil Cobb for keeping the wheels moving and keeping everyone on track.

I am delighted to welcome to Georgia (Gia) Destouni as the new Editor in Chief of WRR. I have had the opportunity to talk extensively with Gia and learn about her plans for the journal. WRR is certainly in excellent hands. I’m looking forward to the future of WRR under Gia’s leadership.

—Martyn Clark ([email protected]), outgoing Editor in Chief, Water Resources Research, and Global Institute for Water Security, University of Saskatchewan, Canada; with thanks to Sina Khatami ( ORCID logo 0000-0003-1149-5080), Hydrology Researcher, Stockholm University, Sweden

Citation: Clark, M., and S. Khatami (2021), The evolution of Water Resources Research, Eos, 102, Published on 11 March 2021.
Text © 2021. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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