Wolfgang_Kinzelbach Dr. Wolfgang Kinzelbach (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)

Topic: Exploration and Assessment of Groundwater.

Dr. Kinzelbach has developed a new approach to using remote sensing for groundwater modeling.

Using various types of remotely-sensed data, including geophysical data, linked with point surface observations and measurements, spatially widespread data is converted to a usable model input for groundwater modeling.

He has developed large-scale stochastic models to take advantage of the quantified uncertainties of the input data propagating into the model results. The research develops a way to get spacially uniform information from remote sensing that can be used to help groundwater exploration, especially in underdeveloped or remote areas, which can help populations in economically depressed regions to find better groundwater resources.

His work, using three examples in Botswana and one in China, gives a practical demonstration of how hydrologists can maximize the potentials of remote sensing.

Dr. Kinzelbach has made a valuable case study of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, where his research addresses the critical issue of what share of available water resources should be kept for natural ecosystems. The research also explores the changes in the flooded parts of the delta as a function of various developments (dam construction, abstraction for irrigation) that take place in the river upstream from the delta.

To answer these questions, a highly sophisticated coupled hydrologic model was built with a surface layer for flood and runoff simulations, a sub-surface layer representing the aquifer, and a vadose zone simplified coupling layer in between. A considerable amount of remote sensing data was employed for initial parameterization and calibration of the model, in particular 151 satellite images of the extension flood zones between 1972 and 2000.

The model was able to test the influence on the flooded zone distribution of the various development scenarios and provided interesting predictions of the reduction of flooded areas as a function of the abstraction for irrigation in the river upstream.

These results were directly useable by the government of Botswana to be able to make decisions regarding the protection of this particularly important ecosysyem.

This is a remarkable example of hydrological modeling development, simultaneously with the application of Dr. Kinzelbach’s new and complex model to a very large and arid zone, to test the consequences of various development scenarios.

Dr. Kinzelbach’s work has particular relevance to water resource management in the developing world.  

Winner Profile

Professor Wolfgang K. H. Kinzelbach is Professor of Hydromechanics, ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). He is also the Director of the Institute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zurich, President of the ETH NorthSouth Centre, and Delegate of the President of ETH for Professorial Search Commissions.

He received his PhD in 1978 in Civil Engineering from the University of Karlsruhe in Germany with a specialization in river pollution control.

In 1986, he received his professorship in the field of "Flow and Transport Processes in the Environment" from the University of Stuttgart in Germany. He is an advisor of the Swiss Nuclear Waste Agency (NAGRA).


Cox Visiting Professorship of Stanford University (2007).

  • Henry Darcy Medal of the European Geophysical Society (2002).- European Science Award of the Körber Foundation (1992). Academic Software Award of the German Ministry of Research and Technology (1990).
  • EhrensenatorHuberAward of the Faculty of Civil Engineering Karlsruhe University for the best dissertation of the year (1979).


Professor Kinzelbach has published six books and 75 scientific papers within the past 12 years.

Acceptance Speech

kinzelbachspeechYour Royal Highness; ladies and Gentlemen:

With great pleasure and gratitude I accept the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Prize for Water.

Since my stay as a lecturer in the Sahel zone of Northern Nigeria in the 1970s the problems of the water stressed world have been my concern. Since then I have seen and studied groundwater problems in countries like Tunisia, Niger, Botswana, South Africa, Usbekistan, and China.

Groundwater is a critical resource in the arid world. Its use is in many cases is not sustainable at present abstraction rates. Research into the resource and its hydrology is still a major challenge today as it is governed by rare events and usually steady state assumptions do not hold. Therefore the basic data for rational management are hard to come by. Science has been providing new methods in recent decades including environmental tracer and isotope techniques, satellite remote sensing, airborne geophysics, and deterministic and stochastic modelling. My co-workers and myself have been contributing to the development of all these methods and we have applied them to practical management problems over the years.

We are happy that our efforts are recognized and cherished by the community. This recognition is expressed in a unique way by the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Prize for Water. The prize will help to even better disseminate our findings. It also challenges and encourages us to boost our efforts in helping the arid world through our science.

Please accept again my thanks and the thanks of my co-workers for the great honour you bestow on us.


Winning Works

  1. How can remote sensing contribute in groundwater modeling
  2. Using remote sensing to regionalize local precipitation recharge rates obtained from the Chloride Method
  3. A regional coupled surface water/groundwater model of the Okavango Delta, Botswana
  4. Sustainable groundwater management – problems and scientific tools

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