Mekonnen Gebremichael Receives 2010 Early Career Hydrologic Sciences Award

Mekonnen Gebremichael received the 2010 Early Career Hydrologic Sciences Award at the 2010 AGU Fall Meeting, held 13–17 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award is for significant early­career contributions to hydrologic science.


gebremichael_mekonnenIt is my privilege to introduce to you Mekonnen Gebremichael, winner of the 2010 AGU Early Career Hydrologic Sciences Award.

Mekonnen’s remarkable contributions are in satellite remote sensing of rainfall and evapotranspiration, with application to hydrometeorology. A key problem here is the quantification of various sources of uncertainty, which is necessary for rational use of the spaceborne products. Mekonnen has advanced statistical models that comprehensively describe the sampling, as well as retrieval errors, of rainfall estimated from space. He has revealed the need to take into proper consideration the effects of spatial resolution and temporal sampling to avoid significant biases in retrieval of evapotranspiration. His findings enable ensemble based prediction of hydrologic processes and meaningful uncertainty propagation.

Mekonnen, still in his early career, has also been exploring the tools of scaling theory and nonlinear dynamics to gain new insights into the behavior of hydrologic systems. Using NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite data, he demonstrated for the first time that rainfall across the entire tropics, including the ocean, follows the scale invariance property that can be linked to physical processes. In a recent publication he established that the standard method of calibrating distributed hydrological models fails to accurately reproduce the runoff production mechanisms, despite its ability to reproduce the total streamflow at the watershed outlet. His finding calls for a paradigm shift in the development of distributed hydrologic models. His work also provides new insights into the long memory property of river flow and its dependence on spatial scale.

Mekonnen has also distinguished himself as an architect and builder of scientific capacity in Africa. He is leading a groundbreaking collaboration among U.S. and Ethiopian universities aimed at enhancing the capacity of Ethiopia’s higher education system to produce engineers, scientists, and policy specialists equipped to engineer and manage water resources for the economic, social, and health advancement of Ethiopian citizens.

I have always been impressed by Mekonnen’s unassuming, quiet style, which conceals his tremendous talents and capabilities. Through creativity, hard work, and collegiality he is poised to make many more lasting contributions to the profession.

Witold Krajewski, University of Iowa, Iowa City


I am deeply honored and humbled by this award and recognition. Thank you, Witek, for all your kind words and unwavering support since the very start of my scientific career. Without your inspiration, I would not be the dedicated and passionate scientist that I am today.

There is enormous potential in satellite data for use in various hydrological applications and irrigation water management that can directly contribute to solving major developmental and food security challenges around the world. The roles of satellite data are irreplaceable, particularly in the developing world, as an alternative to ground-based measurements, which are typically unavailable. Despite these benefits, satellite data are rarely used in operational applications in the developing world. In my opinion, there are two reasons for this. First, the development of reliable satellite products for the developing world is challenging due to the lack of reliable ground-based data for validation. Second, the use of satellite data requires special skills and technical knowledge in remote sensing theory and image processing. Currently, students and professionals in the developing world are not well acquainted with this technology.

Over the past decade, my research efforts have been in developing mathematical tools and advancing our understanding of the uncertainty of satellite hydrological estimates, limitations of the involved algorithms, and scaling properties of hydrology for downscaling purposes. Building on these, my recent research efforts are geared toward demonstrating innovative and practical applications of the satellite data sets to increase their benefits to society.

This award came at the time when I was preparing to go to Ethiopia to lead a large team of scientists in inaugurating the Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development Higher Education for Development partnership under the Africa U.S. Higher Education Initiative. The mission of the institute is to establish a long-term academic partnership between U.S. and Ethiopian institutions to provide outstanding higher education programs, conduct internationally recognized research, and perform nationally relevant outreach in the field of sustainable development and management of water resources that will help to address African development challenges. It is anticipated that this institute will contribute toward advancing the capabilities of satellite data to solve societal problems and training the next generation of professionals in satellite data applications.

This award has inspired me tremendously, and I hope it will inspire other scientists working in this exciting field. I am very grateful to AGU and the Early Career Hydrologic Sciences Award Committee for the honor conferred on me. I will continue to work diligently to produce meaningful contributions.

Mekonnen Gebremichael , University of Connecticut, Storrs