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Young researchers receive awards for hydrological modeling of the future

2016 TISON award winners © Unesco

06/20/2016

Are we ready to evaluate the impacts of climate change on water flows? Eight young researchers – including 2 from Irstea – have addressed the issue of hydrological modeling in the context of climate change. The large basins will be affected, and so will water resources (flooding, low water levels, etc.). This international prize dedicated to young researchers has recognized the collective's work in novel experimentation methods and hydrological models of the future.

How can we reliably evaluate the impacts of global change (human activities and climate change) on water resources and provide much needed methods and data to managers? Faced with many uncertainties, scientists have been working on hydrological models to simulate flooding and low water levels and to estimate water flows into catchment areas. These models are used to extrapolate precipitation and temperature data in flows with the aim of modeling the behavioral changes of basins in order to better anticipate them.

The international collective of 8 young researchers including 2 from Irstea (main author Guillaume Thirel and Carina Furusho-Percot) decided to address the issue. Can current hydrological models be used to study basins undergoing change? Are they the right tool for use in impact studies by managers?

Their publication [1] in the magazine of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS) has received the 2016 TISON award, an award in international hydrology. The award ceremony took place on June 15 at Unesco in Paris with the French ambassador to Unesco in attendance. Each year, the award is given for the best article published in the IAHS journals by researchers under the age of 41.

Research protocol

In order to address these questions, the Irstea team developed a protocol to evaluate hydrological models, using inconstant data from the past (changing temperatures, dam construction, etc.) to align the models. Participants then applied the protocol to their own models, which consisted of a dozen basins around the world (excluding Asia). All the basins underwent changes, either in physical characteristics (e.g., evolution of ground cover) or climate conditions (gradual increase in temperature).

The resulting data set not only revealed what works, but also made it possible to identify the gaps and opportunities for further research in order to meet the primary aim of improving forecasting of basin behavior based on current knowledge. For example, land use (afforestation, urbanization, etc.) has an influence on water drainage. This raises a question: what is the impact of potential basin usage and development changes?

Advancing science

The award is an important honor and promotes the international visibility of Irstea's research on the impact of climate change and hydrological modeling. Among the reward recipients, 4 young scientists did their PhD research at Irstea or received support from Irstea. In 2009, 3 Irstea researchers received the award. Guillaume Thirel describes it as "an important honor and a way to promote research and scientific advances that are not part of a funded project." The award is an extraordinary early career distinction.

Find out more about TISON awards.

For further information

[1] Hydrology under change: an evaluation protocol to investigate how hydrological models deal with changing catchments, Hydrological Sciences Journal, 60:7-8, 1184-1199, DOI: 10.1080/02626667.2014.967248. Publication.