Water Management & Protection Prize - 10th Award


The team of Matthew McCabe (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Thuwal, Saudi Arabia)

The work of Dr. McCabe and his team involves employing CubeSat constellations in the sustainable management and security of linked water-food systems, culminating in the highest resolution estimates of agricultural water with global coverage at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolutions.

Their work shows how a CubeSat constellation with the capacity to monitor the dynamic land surface condition can facilitate not only the detection of vegetation health and condition, but also allow monitoring of natural disasters such as floods, landslides, and earthquakes, the delineation of surface water changes and changes in lake and river extent, or any other application where timely and repeatable information is needed to procure actionable intelligence.

Team members include Bruno Aragon (KAUST) and Rasmus Houborg (Planet Labs, USA).

Winner Profile

Dr. Matthew McCabe

Dr. McCabe is Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Director of the Centre for Watershed Sciences, at the University of California, Davis.


• 2003 – PhD: University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
• 1997 – BE (Hons); University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia (Environmental Engineering)

Selected Awards:

2016 – Inaugural Planet Ambassador, Planet Labs, San Francisco
2009 – Tall Poppy Award of the Australian Institute of Policy and Sciences (NSW and ACT)
1997 – Australian Institute of Engineers Civil and Structural Branch Prize (Newcastle) for Dux of Final Year Engineering
1997 – Tony Herzog Prize for the Best Engineering Honours Thesis, University of Newcastle, Australia



Acceptance Speech

dionysios300x300 Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests. It is with immense honor and gratitude that I accept the prestigious Prince Sultan International Prize for Water. The recognition of my team's contribution to Water Management and Protection is a pinnacle moment in my career and I am humbled to be recognized alongside a remarkable group of world-leading researchers who have dedicated their professional lives to the advancement of water science and technology.

First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the sponsors of this award, the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water. Your commitment to recognizing and promoting excellence in water research and innovation is outstanding and shines a light on the critical role that water plays in driving and shaping the future of our world.

I would like to make a special acknowledgement to His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, who established this internationally important award, and for His Royal Highness Prince Khalid Bin Sultan who continues that legacy as President of the PSIPW Organization. I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of Dr. Badran Al-Omar and all of the esteemed members of the Prize Council, as well as HE Dr AbdulRahman Al Fadley, Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

The Prince Sultan International Prize for Water is one of the preeminent global scientific awards. Recognizing the transformative power of water research to shape and advance modern society, it champions efforts that seek solutions to some of the world’s most challenging water related problems. Such awards inspire current and future generations of scientists and engineers, encouraging them to develop novel solutions and innovative technologies that can safeguard our planet and deliver a prosperous future for all.

I must also thank KAUST and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where I have been fortunate to work and reside for the last decade, who have provided a research environment that nurtures creativity, curiosity, and collaboration. A key motivation behind all the research we do is to push the boundaries of what is possible, to challenge conventional wisdom, and to find innovative solutions to problems - particularly those around water scarcity and sustainable resource utilization.

I am deeply honored to receive the specialized prize in Water Management and Protection for my team's pioneering contribution towards advancing the use of Cubesats in Earth observation. These constellations of small shoe-boxed sized satellites have revolutionized how often and how well we can observe the Earth, providing an entirely new paradigm in our ability to monitor and manage national and international water resources. Combining Cubesat-derived information with cutting-edge data analytics has allowed us to observe and measure the footprint of humanities activity at a global scale, turning satellite data into actionable intelligence.

My team has focused its attention on quantifying agricultural water use and needs, identifying the health and condition of agricultural fields at unprecedented scales, and delivering the techniques needed to advance a more sustainable use of water resources around the world. The background to this is that the water we use to grow our food is the single largest consumer of freshwater globally - accounting for more than 70% of humanity's water footprint. As such, it is imperative that we have the tools to accurately determine this on a local, national and global basis. Such information is critical for developing sustainable water practices that safeguard the security and resilience of our interlinked water and food sectors.

It goes without saying that none of these achievements could have been possible without the efforts of an incredibly talented group of scientists and engineers who have been part of my team at KAUST over the last decade and more. Their creativity and commitment to push against the boundaries of knowledge are the driving forces behind these achievements. I am immensely grateful for all their individual and collective contributions over the years.

In conclusion, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz International Prize for this extraordinary honor. The awards commitment to promoting innovation in water science and technology provides great motivation to scientists and engineers around the world, encouraging them to focus attention on the many water related challenges that we are facing now and in the coming decades. Finding innovative solutions to these challenges lies at the very heart of creating a secure and sustainable water future for generations to come.

Thank you.

Winning Work

[1] McCabe MF, Aragon B, Houborg R, Mascaro J (2017) “Cubesats in hydrology: ultrahigh resolution insights into vegetation dynamics and terrestrial evaporation”, Water Resources Research, 53, doi: 10.1002/2017WR022240

[2] Aragon B, Ziliani MG, Houborg R, Franz TE and McCabe MF (2021) “Cubesats deliver new insights into agricultural water use at daily and 3 m resolutions”, Scientific Reports, 11(1), 12131, doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-91646-w

[3] Houborg R and McCabe MF (2018) “A Cubesat Enabled Spatio-Temporal Enhancement Method (CESTEM) utilizing Planet, Landsat and MODIS data”, Remote Sensing of Environment, doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2018.02.067

[4] Lopez Valencia O, Johansen K, Aragon B, Li T, Houborg R, Malbeteau Y, Al-Mashharawi S, Altaf MU, Fallatah EM, Dasari HP, Hoteit I and McCabe MF (2020) “Mapping groundwater abstractions from irrigated agriculture: big data, inverse modeling and a satellite-model fusion approach”, Hydrology and Earth Systems Sciences, doi.org/10.5194/hess-2020-50

[5] McCabe MF, Rodell M, Alsdorf DE, Miralles DG, Uijlenhoet R, Wagner W, Lucieer A, Houborg R, Verhoest NEC, Franz TE, Shi J, Gao H and Wood EF (2017) “The future of Earth observation in hydrology”, Hydrology and Earth Systems Sciences 21, 3879-3914, doi:10.5194/hess-21-3879-2017

Back to all 10th Award Winners