Marc Parlange

1997 James B. Macelwane Medal Winner

Johns Hopkins University

The 1997 James B. Macelwane Medal, given by AGU for significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by a young scientist of outstanding ability, was presented to Marc. B. Parlange at the AGU Spring Meeting Honor Ceremony on May 28, 1997, in Baltimore. The award citation and Parlange’s response are given here.


“As the first-born of a fresh Ph.D., Marc Parlange must have been predestined for a life of research and teaching. He came into the world in Providence, Rhode Island, some 35 years ago only a few weeks after his father had completed his graduate studies at Brown. However, as happens to most of us after graduate school, the family moved on and Marc’s subsequent schooling from early childhood followed all the wanderings of his father’s subsequent professorial career. Marc’s early education took place in Hamden (near New Haven), Connecticut. One year of high school was spent in Seattle, Washington, and the last two years in Brisbane, Queensland, where he then entered Griffith University and in due course graduated from its applied mathematics program. Evidently, all this exposure to multiple cultural environments, together with a strong family home base, allowed him to thrive and made him into the person we honor here today.

“I first met Marc in 1984 after he had come to Cornell to start his graduate work. As I recall it, he came to see me about one of my courses but somehow we digressed and ended up chatting the afternoon away about marathon running and training. In any event, he subsequently made so much progress that, when the time came in 1986, I selected him to accompany me to the Landes region in southwestern France, where for the entire summer we participated as a radiosounding field crew in the Hydrological Atmospheric Pilot Experiment, HAPEX-Mobilhy, to study the atmospheric boundary layer and large-scale surface heat and water vapor transport above the forest. A couple of years later, with his doctorate in hand, Marc started his career as an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis, and he is now a Professor at Johns Hopkins University here in Baltimore. It has been an exciting journey to where he is now.

“While most researchers, at least in the early stages of their career, remain focused on one specific topic, Marc Parlange and his associates at Davis have advanced in short order and with remarkable success on a number of fronts. The breadth of his work in hydrology has been truly amazing. I will not even attempt to describe the numerous contributions that led to this Macelwane Medal, but merely sketch a brief outline.

“In the study of evaporation, Marc and his students were able to elucidate further the advection-aridity concept in the presence of oasis effects, the free convective limit over complex natural terrain, and the applicability of similarity at the mesogamma scale. In their studies of the atmospheric boundary layer, they were the first to show the existence of three distinct sublayers for humidity in the surface layer; they quantified the active role of temperature (in contrast to humidity) at small turbulence scales with wavelet statistics, and they developed high-resolution horizontal versus vertical scaling by means of lidar techniques. Turning to turbulence theory, Marc and his coworkers succeeded in quantifying intermittency effects on Kolmogorov theory and describing the spatial structure in the dynamic and dynamic-convective sublayers, again by devising an ingenious wavelet sampling scheme for this purpose. In studies of flow in porous media and groundwater, they produced convincing evidence for the importance of cracked soil horizons in the vadose zone and developed Kalman filter and optimization approaches to characterize soil water flow processes at the field scale, as observed during evaporative desorption and during drainage. Finally, in collaboration with Rick Katz, he succeeded in constructing stochastic precipitation generators, a major advance over conventional approaches, and he was able to bring greater realism to the description of daily precipitation variations than was previously the case.

“In conclusion, his contributions, his intense dedication to scholarship, and his charisma and leadership of his research team have made Marc Brendan Parlange literally outstanding among his peers. I find it difficult to think of anyone more deserving of AGU’s Macelwane Medal.”

—WILFRIED BRUTSAERT, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.


“Thank you very much, Professor Brutsaert, for your kind citation. I feel honored and know full well that I am standing here thanks to many people.

“My academic advisors have all been inspirational. As an undergraduate at Griffith University in Australia, Calvin Rose and Bill Hogarth were the first to expose me to the wonderful world of applied math research. My master’s advisor at Cornell, Tammo Steenhuis, gave me the opportunity to learn about field experimentation when we studied preferential water movement in the hills surrounding Ithaca with Dennis Timlin. My Ph.D. research with Wilfried Brutsaert on regional-scale fluxes over the Landes Forest in France brought more field experimentation opportunities. Our work on the structure of the atmospheric boundary layer has led to much of what I have done since with my students and colleagues at the University of California, Davis and Johns Hopkins University.

“I was delighted to be able to join the U.C. Davis hydrology program where Don Nielsen and Jan Hopmans have created an outstanding center for research and teaching. I am indebted to all my Davis faculty colleagues, too many to mention here, and sabbatical visitors Han Stricker, Marcos Folegatti, and Gerard Kiely, for exposing me to exciting new areas in hydrology and environmental fluids. It has been the greatest delight and thrill working with my Ph.D. students at Davis. My first Ph.D. student, Gabriel Katul, who is now at Duke University, opened up the world of wavelets in the study of land-atmosphere interaction and turbulent intermittency. Bill Eichinger, who is at the University of Iowa now, left nuclear physics and brought lidar to study ocean-atmosphere interaction and cloud formation. Teresa Ortenburger also used lidar in her studies of sea breeze formation. John Albertson, now at the University of Virginia, developed a large eddy simulation (LES) code for atmospheric boundary layer research and carried out the most free convective turbulence measurements ever at Owen’s Valley with Scott Tyler of Desert Research Institute/Reno. Jozsef Szilagyi, now at the University of Nebraska, developed the first of a new generation of distributed watershed models. Here in Baltimore, with Tony Cahill, we are pursuing coupled heat and water subsurface transport, and with Fernando Porte, and Charles Meneveau we are looking at LES subgrid scale flux formulations.

“I was fortunate also to meet Rick Katz from NCAR, who was on sabbatical at Davis in 1990 and with whom I have worked with ever since. Working with Rick has opened up the rich world of statistics and brought a new perspective to much of what we do in hydrology. The team spirit and enthusiasm among my students and colleagues has created a special spark and learning environment that has enabled us to tackle a wide array of problems.

“Last year, I was pleased to join the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. This department, founded by Abel Wolman and built up by Reds Wolman and Charlie O’Melia, has long offered a unique integrated perspective in the environmental engineering arena. My faculty colleagues at Hopkins, too many to name, have been wonderful.

“Most important, I wish to acknowledge my family. Life has been especially wonderful thanks to the love and support of my wife, Mary, who is always enthusiastic and positive through a sometimes hectic lifestyle. Our two young sons, Brendan and Luc, bring perspective and joy to our lives. I thank my parents and sisters, who made me into who I am. One special aspect of living close to my folks at Cornell is being able to continue to work on flow in porous media with my father, Jean-Yves Parlange.

“Thanks again to the Macelwane Medal committee for their confidence and to the American Geophysical Union.”

—MARC B. PARLANGE, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.