McKnight Receives 2014 Hydrologic Sciences Award

Diane McKnight received the 2014 Hydrologic Sciences Award at the 2014 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, held 15–19 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award is for outstanding contributions to the science of hydrology.


McKnight_Diane-Hydrologic_Sciences_Award_SIZEDIt is an honor for me to introduce the recipient of the 2014 Hydrologic Sciences Award, Diane McKnight. Diane is one of a handful of scientific leaders worldwide at the forefront of studies at the interface between hydrology and biogeochemistry.

Diane is a visionary scientist. One example is her study of the links between natural organic matter and metals in acid mine drainage streams. Her work on the photoreduction of iron in natural streams, published in Science in 1988, remains influential to this date. Another breakthrough came in 2001 when she demonstrated the use of fluorescence spectroscopy to characterize dissolved natural organic matter, work that has influenced essentially the whole field. There obviously is much more—Diane has published about 200 papers in archival journals over her career, and they represent a tremendously substantive body of scientific work.

Diane also is persistent. An anecdote is illustrative. Years ago Diane, Ken Bencala, and I wanted to inject enough dissolved organic carbon in a Colorado stream to trace its fate and transport. After figuring out that it would take about 95 years to leach enough material from leaves, it would have been easy to give up. But Diane had other ideas. She flew to Georgia where she met a tanker truck driver at the Suwannee River. I only wish I had a tape of the conversation that must have occurred. “Let me get this straight. You want me to pump my tank full of swamp water?” Answer: “yes, please.” Suffice it to say that we did the experiment.

Diane also has an enviable record of service; she was President of the American Geophysical Union Biogeosciences section and was the founding editor of Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences.

The Hydrologic Sciences Award for 2014 is conferred to Diane “for her major contributions to fundamental knowledge of linked hydrologic-biogeochemical processes.”

—George Hornberger, Vanderbuilt University, Nashville


I thank George for his generous comments and my family for their support, especially my husband for his friendship and advice. I am grateful for my association with three institutions with strong commitments to hydrology, the Parsons Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the University of Colorado. At MIT I benefited from advice from my thesis advisors, Francois Morel and Penny Chisolm, as I planned a study of the CuSO4 treatment of a drinking water reservoir. At the USGS, my career was influenced by a singular event, the eruption of Mount St. Helens. While studying Spirit Lake, I observed how research by USGS scientists had protected the public and advanced understanding the volcano. Since then, I have been fortunate to work with colleagues on continuing, site-based research projects: the USGS’s Toxics Substances Hydrology Program, the McMurdo Dry Valleys and Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research projects, and the Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory. Within these projects, we have conducted stream-scale experiments to probe underlying processes, and I am indebted to many colleagues for the success of this research. Intersecting with these projects has been a quest with environmental chemists to understand the biogeochemistry of dissolved organic matter in streams and lakes.

Finally, I would like to look ahead by considering the past. I am a descendant of James Buchanan Eads, a famous civil engineer who in 1874 built the first steel arched bridge across the Mississippi River. Eads was a national hero. Since that time, we have reshaped the river and changed its chemistry while also changing the climate that will drive the river’s future. Certainly, advances in hydrology will contribute to the security of communities worldwide, but challenges are heroic in scale. I applaud the young scientists of the Hydrology section who will carry the hydrologic sciences forward.

—Diane McKnight, University of Colorado, Boulder