09 October 2012

National Academies report on "Challenges and Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences"

This week the US National Research Council (NRC) released the report Challenges and Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences. This new report was compiled by the Water Science and Technology Board within the Division on Earth and Life Studies of the National Academy of Sciences, an arm of the National Academies. This new NRC report is a significant update of, and complement to, the original 1991 NRC report Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences. Indeed, as Committee Chairperson G.M. Hornberger writes in this report Preface,
"Today, anyone who reads the 'Blue Book,' as the 1991 NRC report came to be affectionately known, must be struck by how the research agenda envisioned then still serves as a sturdy framework for the field and will undoubtedly do so for a long time in the future. Of course the hydrologic sciences have advanced and matured tremendously since 1991..."
Such encompassing NRC reports, including those of related groups, have become something of a marker in the history of scientific research programs, bringing into alignment some of the history of a field of study and indicating some of the promising future directions for the field. Chairperson Hornberger goes on to state,
"Novel scientific studies now are possible because they can be built on successes of the past and can employ powerful new analytical, measurement, and computational technologies that have emerged over the past two decades and even over the past several years. There are completely new possibilities for learning how water shapes the surface of Earth (and other planets) and creates vegetation patterns, how the hydrology of the land surface both drives and is driven by atmospheric processes, how complex biogeochemical processes are intertwined with hydrological processes, and how a host of the research questions posed in the Blue Book now can be attacked advantageously. In addition to establishing the conceptual, empirical, and theoretical foundations of the science, refining and bolstering the fundamental base for hydrologic sciences is essential to support those who grapple with a multitude of water-related problems in a world that needs increasingly more energy, food, and water for humans while protecting ecosystem integrity, biodiversity, and irreplaceable landscapes, all in the face of a changing climate. Talk about challenges!"
It is a burgeoning field that can indicate so much progress over decades, know its contributions to and relevance in today's world, and maintain a clear view of the work still to be done.

The authoring committee was chaired by Prof. Hornberger and included (in alphabetical order) Assoc. Prof. E. Bernhardt, Prof. W.E. Dietrich, Prof. Dara Entekhabi, Prof. G.E. Fogg, Prof. E. Foufoula-Georgiou, Prof. W.J. Gutowski, Prof. W. Berry Lyons, Prof. K.W. Potter, Prof. S.W. Tyler, Prof. H.J. Vaux, Jr., Prof. C.J. Vörösmarty, Prof. C. Welty, Assoc. Prof. C.A. Woodhouse, and Prof. C. Zheng, along with several staff and numerous reviewers. Their resulting report
"... is not, and was not meant to be, a comprehensive compendium of detailed research projects that might be undertaken in advancing hydrologic science, nor does it seek to define a field — a distinct geoscience — as did the Blue Book. Rather, it presents a high-level view of the field and gives broad examples of the 'promising new opportunities to advance hydrologic sciences' as requested in the charge. It also outlines some of the challenges that face NSF, other agencies engaged in research in hydrologic sciences, and the hydrologic sciences community in fulfilling the vision for the field. The committee members are unanimous in the hope that the report will stimulate new research, some of which will undoubtedly extend beyond the specifics of what is written and into disciplines related to hydrologic sciences, but all of which will contribute to a shared vision of a vibrant and exciting hydrologic science of the future.
The report Table of Contents is a rather concise overview of the specific material tackled by this Committee:
  1. The Hydrologic Sciences
    • What Is Hydrologic Science?
    • Technological and Scientific Advances
    • The Interdisciplinary Interface
    • Hydrologic Science: Looking Ahead
  2. The Water Cycle: An Agent of Change
    • Introduction
    • Research Opportunities
    • Concluding Remarks
  3. Water and Life
    • Introduction
    • Research Opportunities
    • Concluding Remarks
  4. Clean Water for People and Ecosystems
    • Introduction
    • Research Opportunities
    • Concluding Remarks
  5. Hydrologic Sciences: A Path Forward
    • Scientific Challenges
    • Education Issues
    • Importance of Various Modalities of Research Support
    • Translational Hydrologic Science: Key to Success Through Broader Impact
    • Concluding Remarks
+ "References and Suggested Reading" in each chapter
+ 2 Appendices

You can obtain a full pdf copy of both (1991 and 2012) reports from the National Academies Press, for free with registration, at their respective web pages:

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