Thompson Receives 2013 Early Career Hydrologic Science Award

Sally Thompson received the 2013 Early Career Hydrologic Science Award at the 2013 AGU Fall Meeting, held 9–13 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award is for significant early-career contributions to hydrologic science.


thompson_sallySally Thompson grew up in Perth, where she was trained as an environmental engineer at the University of Western Australia. She graduated with honors in 2003 and worked for a few years as an environmental engineering consultant. Following the award of the Sir John Monash Fellowship in Australia, Sal accepted the admissions offer from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University in 2006, completing her Ph.D. within 4 years and defending her dissertation in 2010. I was most fortunate to have Sal join me at Duke after an enthusiastic recommendation from Siva. Upon her arrival at Duke University, it was immediately clear to all that Sal is a special person with the remarkable skill of being able to identify the main aspects of a problem and throw at them the best that theory, experiment, and modeling tools offer.

Her doctoral work focused on development of novel theories regarding the role of vegetation in altering the surface transport of water, the role of surface hydrology in influencing seed dispersal and vegetation spatial dynamics, and the feedbacks between infiltration capacity and local vegetation biomass. Sally’s work combines theory from multiple disciplines—including mathematics, physics, ecology, and hydrology—to explore these questions.

A glance at the diversity of journals she publishes in reveals her scientific maturity. She has developed a broad network of collaborators through participation in the NSF-UIUC Hydrological Synthesis project and more recent initiatives through IAHS, SESYNC, and the Critical Zone Observatories. Her ability to provide constructive reviews and feedback to authors in hydrology awarded her an editor’s citation for excellence in refereeing by Water Resources Research in 2010, and shortly thereafter she was selected as an associate editor for Advances in Water Resources.

On a personal note, Sally is a wonderful human being and a genuine friend to all her colleagues and now students. Sally has moved ecohydrology from its “temporal” origins to a field that accommodates many of its spatiotemporal dimensions, allowing this field to address pressing societal problems previously viewed as impenetrable—a reason sufficient for her to receive the 2013 Early Career Hydrologic Science Award.

—GABRIEL KATUL, Duke University, Durham, N.C.


My most sincere thanks to AGU; the Hydrology section and its chair, Eric Wood; those who were kind enough to nominate me for this award; and, of course, the inimitable Gaby Katul for their support and for this recognition. Receiving the Early Career Hydrologic Science Award is an unexpected and humbling pleasure. After seven schizophrenic years of physical scientists accusing me of being an ecologist and ecologists telling me firmly that I’m an engineer, it’s wonderful to be able to come to rest where I have always self-identified—as a hydrologist!

There are two great pleasures associated with working in the area of ecohydrology, where life and water intersect. The first is the opportunity to unify the exploration of tremendously fun intellectual challenges with the capacity to influence our understanding of critical, socially relevant problems. The second is the fabulous array of thinkers who constitute our academic community in this field. My experience is uniformly of diverse, friendly, and productive relationships with many wonderful mentors, colleagues, friends, and—so rewarding and novel for me still—tremendously exciting research students.

From my early days of learning about research with Bob Bucat in the Chemistry Department of the University of Western Australia (UWA), to the mentors and research advisors in the Environmental Engineering Department at UWA—Keith Smettem, Prabhakar Clement, and most enduringly, Siva Sivapalan—I have been well nourished and inspired. Of all the many researchers I have worked with, Gaby Katul represents the pinnacle of what it means to act as a research and personal mentor: I cannot imagine a more generous Ph.D. advisor or role model, and I can’t thank him enough for his encouragement and faith in me over the years.

Finally, my heartfelt thanks to my patient and wonderful husband, Nicholas George, who has taken many a leap of faith with me since we left Australia and who remains an unswerving source of support and common sense. I look forward to many more productive and enjoyable years working with these fabulous people and engagement with the Hydrology section at AGU.

—SALLY THOMPSON, University of California, Berkeley