Creativity Prize (Co-Winners)


2. Dr. Eric F. Wood and Dr. Justin Sheffield (Princeton University, USA).

They are being awarded for for the development of a state-of-the-art system for accurately monitoring, modeling, and forecasting drought on regional, continental and global scales.

Their in-depth and comprehensive exploration, monitoring, modeling, analysis and forecasting of drought on regional, continental and global scales utilizes modern remote sensing and ground monitoring capabilities to help fuse state-of-the-art hydrologic science, much of which they helped develop, with seasonal climate and shorter-term weather studies in a way that enhances, fundamentally and significantly, our understanding of land-atmosphere coupling and ability to monitor as well as quantify the space-time variability of droughts, past and future.

An important component of this fusion is the bridging of scales between relatively low resolution climate models and hydrologic models having much finer spatial and temporal scales of resolution. The team’s Bayesian downscaling approach has allowed translating climate model outputs into much higher-resolution inputs as drivers of, corresponding hydrologic models. Consequently, terrestrial hydrology can be simulated at fine temporal (hourly) and spatial (12 km) scales over continental domains for the long periods (50 years) necessary to create the historical record required to fit probabilistic models. Today, virtually every drought monitoring system in the world uses Wood’s and Sheffield’s approach.

Another very important outcome of this capability has been a unique Princeton Global Forcing Dataset that is now widely used by the scientific and drought forecasting communities worldwide.

Previous assessments of historic changes in drought over the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries expected climate change to cause an increase in drought frequency and severity due to corresponding decrease in regional precipitation and increase in evaporation. In a 2012 letter to Nature, the team effectively overturns this expectation by demonstrating that it is based on an oversimplified potential evaporation model. By contrast, their more comprehensive approach indicates that there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years. This explains why tree-ring drought reconstructions diverge from earlier drought records, and it alters our perspective on how global warming impacts hydrological phenomena and extremes.

The team’s efforts have culminated in the recent development of a drought monitoring and forecasting system with UNESCO for sub-Saharan Africa.

Winner Profiles

Dr. Eric F. Wood

Dr. Eric F. Wood is Susan Dod Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University.

• Sc.D. 1974; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Civil Engineering.
• C.E. 1973; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Civil Engineering.
• S.M.1972; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Civil Engineering.
• B.A.Sc. (honours)1970; University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, Civil Engineering.

Selected Awards:
2014: Alfred Wegener Medal and Honorary Member, European Geosciences Union.
2011: Doctor Honoris Causa, Ghent University, Gent, Belgium.
2010: Jule G Charney Award, American Meteorological Society.
2007: John Dalton Medal, European Geosciences Union.
1980: Rheinstein Award, Princeton University.2006: Fellow American Geophysical Union.
1977: Robert E. Horton Award, Hydrology Section of the American Geophysical Union


Dr. Justin Sheffield

Dr. Aiguo Dai is is a research hydrologist at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University.

PhD. ; Wageningen University, the Netherlands, Hydroclimatology.
M.Sc.; University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, Engineering Mathematics.
B.Sc.; University of Southampton, UK, Mathematics and Oceanography.

Selected Awards:
2013: Plinius Medal, European Geosciences Union.

Acceptance Speech

Your Royal Highness, council members, esteemed members of the audience,

The award of the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water for Creativity is a great honor for myself and for my colleague Eric Wood. We are truly grateful to his highness Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, the Prize Council, and King Saud University for their contribution to water-related issues globally, and in particular for their leadership in supporting and recognizing science that contributes to sustainable water solutions for the most vulnerable of society.

Eric Wood and myself are very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in the field of drought and water scarcity that engenders tremendous challenges in terms of the science and the impacts to society.

Our research is focused on the terrestrial hydrological cycle at large-scales, its interactions with climate variability and climate change, and how variations manifest in extreme hydrological events such as drought. Drought has tremendous impacts on society and the environment, especially in regions with vulnerable populations. In this context our goal has been to characterize and understand drought, its drivers and its impacts. This allows us to translate this fundamental understanding into applications that contribute to drought early warning and the potential to manage risk, especially in regions with low data availability and coping capacity. Tackling the tremendous scientific challenge of drought prediction therefore also provides tremendous rewards as scientists to contribute towards building capacity and self-resilience.

The International Water Prize for Creativity recognizes scientific work that provides breakthroughs in a water-related field through research, invention or technology, which is “useful to society and contributes to development and social uplift, while being practical, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective”. We are especially pleased that our work on drought and its application in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa has been recognized in this context.

Natural hazards mitigation and management requires crossing disciplinary lines in research and applications, and this reflects the diversity of people that we have worked with in order to make progress in understanding drought and providing practical solutions for early warning. There are therefore many people to thank. But firstly let me thank the prize committee, in particular, for their hard work and difficult task in choosing between many other deserving nominees. Let me also thank Dr. Peter van Oevelen, the Director of the international program office of WCRP’s Global Energy and Water Exchanges project, the nominator, for his [and the other supporters for their] time and input on the nomination - we deeply appreciate your support.

We would like to thank our research group in Princeton, and especially the students, Nathaniel Chaney and Colby Fisher, who have contributed to the development and testing of our drought monitoring and forecast systems. This prize is recognition of our students and research staff who continue to amaze us with their hard work and creativity.

We would also like to thank our collaborators in the U.S. and in Africa, in particular at the UNESCO International Hydrology Program, Amani Abou and Siegfried Demuth, and Will Logan at the International Center for Integrated Water Resources Management (ICIWaRM), with whom we have collaborated successfully with over the past few years to transfer the drought monitoring technology to African regional climate centers and to provide capacity building for scientists at meteorological and hydrological services, water managers, and university researchers. We also thank our African collaborators, Abdou Ali of AGRHYMET in Niamey, Niger, Luke Olang from ICPAC and Kenyatta University in Nariobi, Kenya, and the many others in west and east Africa who have contributed to the implementation of the system. We consider these collaborators as friends foremost. We would also like to thank the support of the funding agencies in the U.S. who have provided support through projects in basic scientific research in the hydrological and climatological sciences, who recognize the need for fundamental science in drought.

We would like to thank our families for their support and encouragement. They have enabled us to pursue our scientific interests and indulge us in our wishes to translate this science into practical solutions.

Finally, although Eric Wood could not be here today, I would like to take the opportunity to provide my deepest thanks and admiration for him. He taught me his trademark mantra of "creative thoughts everyday" and how to translate those thoughts, whether they were plausible or improbable into science and practical applications and engineering solutions that might have some impact on people's lives. Thank you Eric.

Your Royal Highness, we are deeply grateful to you and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for your generosity and recognition of our work through this prize. It is a real pleasure and honor for us to receive this award and hope that this will lead to closer collaborations with Saudi Arabia in addressing critical issues related to water. I also hope that this provides inspiration for younger scientists and researchers to endeavor to translate their research into practical outcomes that help the most vulnerable of society. Thank you.

Justin Sheffield

Winning Work

1. Sheffield, J., E. F. Wood, N. Chaney, K. Guan, S. Sadri, X. Yuan, L. Olang, A. Amani, A. Ali, S. Demuth, and L. Ogallo, 2013: "A Drought Monitoring and Forecasting System for Sub-Sahara African Water Resources and Food Security." Bull. Am. Met. Soc., e-View. doi:

2. Sheffield, J., E. F. Wood, and M. L. Roderick, 2012: "Little change in global drought over the past 60 years." Nature, 491, 435–438. doi:

3. Sheffield, J., and E. F. Wood, 2011: Drought: Past Problems and Future Scenarios, Earthscan, UK, pp 192.

4. Pan, M., X. Yuan, and E. F. Wood, 2013: "A probabilistic framework for assessing drought recovery" Geophys. Res. Letts. 40(14): 3637-3642 doi:, July 28.

5. Sheffield, J., K. M. Andreadis, E. F. Wood, and D. P. Lettenmaier, 2009: "Global and continental drought in the second half of the 20th century: Severity-area-duration analysis and temporal variability of large-scale events", J. Climate, 22(8), 1962-1981. doi:

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