Murugesu Sivapalan Receives 2010 Hydrologic Sciences Award

Murugesu Sivapalan received the 2010 Hydrologic Sciences Award at the 2010 AGU Fall Meeting, held 13–17 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award is for outstanding contributions to the science of hydrology.


sivapalan_murugesuIt is a great honor and a privilege to present to you the recipient of the 2010 Hydrologic Sciences Award, Murugesu Sivapalan, of the University of Illinois at Urbana­Champaign.

Siva received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1986, working with Eric Wood. He then moved to the Centre for Water Research, University of Western Australia, where he spent 18 years sending from “down under” his fresh ideas and innovative new directions for research in watershed hydrology. He moved back to the United States in 2005, to the University of Illinois.

Siva’s early work laid the foundations of a new research area devoted to “scale issues in hydrologic predictions.” In a series of papers entitled “On hydrologic similarity,” he conceptualized the nature of hydrological heterogeneity and scale, and their effects on runoff response, ultimately leading to the concept of the representative elementary area (REA) as a building block for the development of distributed watershed models.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Siva pioneered the concept of “watershed thermodynamics,” paving the way to the derivation of closures for the governing equations of watershed hydrologic response and providing a prototype of minimal complexity, physically based models.

Siva’s visionary outlook regarding the science of hydrology energized the international hydrologic community when the Predictions in Ungauged Basins (PUB) initiative was launched in 2002 by the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS). This decadal initiative was conceived and led by Siva, and its impact on the advancement of the scientific basis of predictive watershed hydrology has been tremendous.

Since he came back to the United States, Siva has again been leading the hydrologic sciences community with vision and dedication. His current U.S. National Science Foundation-funded effort on hydrologic synthesis, focused on “hydrologic predictions in a changing environment,” has already influenced the field in profound ways by promoting a synthetic view of water-sediment-biota interactions at the catchment scale.

Siva has certainly left a mark in the field of hydrology, through his innovative and rigorous research, his leadership skills, and his dedicated service to the community. His 2010 Hydrologic Sciences citation reads, “For outstanding contributions to the science of hydrologic predictions in ungauged basins and for international leadership in scientific hydrology.”

Please join me in congratulating Siva on his accomplishments, which are not only his but also those of the hydrologic sciences community.

Efi Fououla-Georgiou, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis


Thanks, Dennis Lettenmaier, and thank you, Efi, for your citation and for your tireless efforts in nominating me, repeatedly, for this award. I am proud to be here, knowing what this means and remembering what it took to get here.

I look back over the last 50 years and think of many people—parents, teachers, friends, and colleagues—on many continents, who helped open doors that would have otherwise remained closed. I think of my high school math teacher who picked me from the crowd and lifted me up. I think of Eric Wood, who let me into Princeton when 15 other places would not accept me. I think of Jörg Imberger, who gave me my first academic job, when no one else would, on the basis of a failed interview at a third place. I think of several other people who helped me along the way; in the interest of time, I will not list them all by name. Suffice it to say, the fact that I am here is a fluke, really.

There is a famous Tamil saying: “You need a wall to paint a masterpiece.” That is how it feels to have a family like mine. I am grateful to my wife, sons, and daughter-in-law for the love and support that are the backdrop to my success.

Most of all, I want to dedicate this award to my students, some of whom are in the audience; I have been proud to have them as my extra hands as well as my extra brains. They are the ladder upon which I have climbed. I am grateful to them for sharing in my ideas and for sharing their ideas with me. I am especially delighted to be receiving this award on the same day that Ciaran Harman is receiving the Horton Research Grant. Surely, this couldn’t have been better scripted.

In my younger days I used to get an earful from my sister, whose affection I cherish, along these lines: “In attempting to walk like the swan, the crow lost even its natural gait,” which in simple English means, “Don’t pretend to be somebody that you are not.” If there is one thing I am proud of, it is that I have tried to be my own self and not imitate others, and to bend the hydrology that I do to my own personality. This has brought me enormous happiness. So I am delighted to receive this award, and I thank you all for your support.

Murugesu Sivapalan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign