Eltahir Receives 2017 Hydrologic Sciences Award

Elfatih Eltahir will receive the 2017 Hydrologic Sciences Award at the 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held 11–15 December in New Orleans, La. The award is for “outstanding contributions to the science of hydrology over a career, with an emphasis on the past five years.”


How do hydrology, climatology, entomology, and immunology come together to address an age-old problem? Malaria is not a new disease; it was discovered more than 4,000 years ago. Yet one child dies every minute from malaria today. What makes Dr. Elfatih Eltahir’s work creative and transformational is the recognition to synthesize disparate knowledge of malaria outbreaks, transmission, and propagation to develop a predictive model that will save lives.

In his work, hydrology meets entomology and immunology to create new knowledge that is innovative and transformational. His research group at MIT along with a diverse group of international partners have developed a new computer model to analyze different methods of trying to control the spread of malaria. Seed magazine recently highlighted Prof. Eltahir’s malaria research in an article profiling “the most promising and innovative approaches to fighting malaria.”

Dr. Eltahir is one of the finest hydrologists of our time, a curious intellectual and a pathbreaker whose work is rooted in theory and practice with significant societal relevance. In addition to his pathbreaking work in malaria, his most recent work—in Nature Climate Change in 2016 and Nature Geophysics in 2015—on heat waves predicted for Southwest Asia and rainfall enhancement due to irrigation in East Africa—are not only intellectually fascinating but also likely to have tremendous policy and societal implications.

I know Fatih from graduate school days and consider it a blessing to call him a friend. He is a quiet scholar. He is not a self-promotor. He pursues academia the hard way, using rigorous and imaginative approaches with unapologetic intellectual leadership. This Hydrologic Sciences Award not only recognizes his impeccable intellectual achievements but also provides the impetus for national and international prominence of this timely and humane work.

—Shafiqul Islam, Tufts University, Medford, Mass.


Thank you, Shafik, for your generous words. I appreciate it. I am grateful to those who supported my nomination and all my colleagues in the Hydrology section of AGU. I have enjoyed your collegiality for more than 25 years.

This award is very special to me, not only offered by colleagues I appreciate and deeply respect, but also coming after a long journey starting from a remote corner of Africa, nurtured there by a loving family and dedicated teachers. I am proud of my roots in the Nile valley where I learned that the purpose of rivers is to irrigate fields, until I landed in Ireland to discover that the real purpose of Irish rivers is actually to drain the soil so crops may grow! Nash and Dooge taught me that all hydrology is deterministic, and blessed my move to other side of the Atlantic to MIT, where I shared with Ignacio and Rafael their fascination with Random Functions and Hydrology!! Rafael has been more than an advisor; I have been very lucky to have him as a mentor and friend.

One secret I learned at MIT is the value of exploring new areas of research, fulfilling curiosity, and renewing excitement. So my hydrologic journey took me from understanding the role of forests in the Amazon to studying aquifers and soils in Illinois, and from predicting floods of the Nile to explaining droughts in the Sahel, and more recently, exploring malaria in Africa before exposing dangers of heat waves in Asia. My latest exciting project is hydrology of the human body! Accompanying me in this journey is a long list of excellent students from whom I learned a great deal. To all who shared and enjoyed this journey, I am happy to acknowledge you with deep gratitude. This award is for all of us!

—Elfatih Eltahir, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge