Surface Water Prize


Dr. Gary Parker (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA).

Dr. Parker, one of the world’s premier river geomorphologists, has clarified the vexing problem of meandering rivers, a field that has long been an uncharted territory of geomorphology and sediment transport. His work contributes to our understanding of the shapes rivers take and how they change themselves and their floodplains as they migrate, eroding the sediment of which old land is composed, and creating new land by emplacing fresh sediment.

His research provides models with the ability to capture the coevolution of channel sinuosity and width, so that numerical computations illustrate how meanders generate and how variations in flow bring about the development of meanders. These are effective tools for understanding the processes of meandering, which can be used in a range of engineering computations. He has also provided complex models capable of reproducing the broad range of river width–curvature correlations observed in nature. This research represents a step forward in providing general metrics for predicting width variation patterns in river systems. On a practical level, the work enables knowing what is going to happen in a reconfigured watershed before observing it.

Winner Profile

Dr. Parker is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and W. H. Johnson Professor of Geology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


• Ph.D. 1974; University of Minnesota, Department of Civil Engineering.
• B.Sc. 1971; Johns Hopkins University, Department of Mechanics and Materials Science.

Selected Awards:

2014: G. K. Gilbert Award, American Geophysical Union
2014: Water Resources Research Editor's Choice Award
2012: ASCE Journal of Hydraulic Engineering: Best technical note in 2011
2012: BSG Wiley Blackwell Award, Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, best paper in 2011
2012: University of Illinois: Tau Beta Pi Daniel C. Drucker Eminent Faculty Award
2011: Best paper, 5th International Symposium on Submarine Mass Movement & their Consequences, Kyoto
2010: Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System: Lifetime Research Award
2009: Japan Society of Civil Engineering Committee on Hydroscience and Hydraulic Engineering: Best Paper
2007: International Association of Hydraulic Research: M. Selim Yalin Lifetime Achievement Award
2003: International Association of Hydraulic Research: Schoemaker Award (best paper)
2002: US National Academy of Sciences: G. K. Warren Award, Fluviatile Geomorphology
2001: Minnesota Erosion Control Society: Innovation Award
1999: International Association of Hydraulic Research: Schoemaker Award (best paper)
1995: International Association of Hydraulic Research: Arthur Thomas Ippen Award
1994: American Society of Civil Engineers: Hans Albert Einstein Award
1991: American Society of Civil Engineers: Huber Research Prize
1991: University of Minnesota, Institute of Technology: Outstanding Teacher Award
1983: American Society of Civil Engineers: Hilgard Prize (best paper)
1982: American Society of Civil Engineers: Stevens Award (best discussion)


Acceptance Speech

On the occasion of this ceremony, I extend my warm thanks and deep gratitude to His Royal Highness Prince Khaled Bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, United Nations General Secretary His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon and the outstanding organizing committee of the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water. The receipt of the Surface Water Prize is a great honor for me, and at the same time a responsibility; such honors must be returned by service to the community.

We have heard much discussion today about international water problems, and the need for cooperation between countries. We live in a world where, for example, one country wishes to build a dam on a river that is a major water resource for a country downstream. How should we handle such problems? I offer the wisdom of a famous story from the Islamic world, about the half-mythical Mullah Nasruddin of Seljuk Turkey.

When the Mullah had reached the age of 40, his friend said to him, “Mullah, you are 40 years old and still single. The Quran teaches that men and women should marry each other. Why do you not seek a wife?”

Mullah Nasruddin sighed, and said, “I do indeed wish to be married, but I seek the perfect woman.”

His friend said, “And have you found her?”

“I was introduced to a woman whose singing and poetry were perfect, but her cooking skills were only so so. Later, I was introduced to a woman whose cooking and singing were prefect, but her poetry was just good. And then I was introduced to a woman whose poetry and cooking were perfect, but her singing was ordinary.”

“So you never met the perfect woman.”

“Indeed, I had the honor to be introduced to such a woman.”

“Then why did you not marry her?”

The Mullah let a tear roll down his cheek. “My friend, she was looking for the perfect man.”

The wisdom of this story tells us that the only solutions we will find for big, cross-country water problems will be imperfect ones. If we first accept this, and move forward with a spirit of cooperation, we are more likely to find a path that leads to benefits for all parties.

The prize I have been awarded is in the area of Surface Water. I am particularly indebted to my Saudi Arabian colleagues in this regard, because Saudi Arabia has very little surface water. Indeed, the beautiful, freely-flowing rivers that I specialize in are not to be found in that country.

Or are they? Wadi Hanifah is a river channel flowing through a region near Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Until recently it was an ephemeral channel, like other rivers in the country. It only carried water during relatively rare times of flood. In researching for this award, however, I was delighted to find that the channel of Wadi Hanifah has been converted to a perennial stream. The channel and its floodplain form a beautiful green belt in the middle of the desert, allowing space for recreation, agricultural land for the cultivations of dates, and habitat for fish and other organisms. I have never seen Wadi Hanifah in person, but photographs show that its striking beauty is made all the more striking by the background of the surrounding desert.

And what has been the key to success here? Again, we learn from Mullah Nasruddin. The water in the river is not pristine, perfect glacial water. It is largely sewage water, but reclaimed using modern technology to the point that it is suitable for a wide variety of purposes. One of these is to bring the delight of green spaces to human beings.

Gary Parker

Winning Work

1. Parker, G., Shimizu, Y., Wilkerson, G. V., Eke, E., Abad, J. D., Lauer, J. W., Paola, C., Dietrich, W. E. and Voller, V. R., "A New Framework for Modeling the Migration Of Meandering Rivers" Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 36 (2011), pp. 70–86.

2. Asahi, K., Shimizu, Y. Nelson, J.M. and Parker, G., "Numerical simulation of river meandering with self-evolving banks" Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface, 118:4 (2013), pp. 2208–2229.

3. Eke. E.C., Parker, G. and Shimizu, Y., "Numerical Modeling of Erosional and Depositional Bank Processes in Migrating River Bends with Self-formed Width: Morphodynamics of Bar Push and Bank Pull" Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface, 119:7 (2014), pp. 1455-1483.

4. Eke, E.C., Czapiga, M., Viparelli, E., Shimizu, Y., Imran, J., Sun, T. and Parker, G., "Coevolution of width and sinuosity in meandering rivers" Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 760 (2014), pp. 127- 174.

5. Czapiga, M.J., Smith, V.B., Nittrouer, J.A., Mohrig, D., Parker, G., "Internal connectivity of meandering rivers: statistical generalization of channel hydraulic geometry" Water Resources Research, 51 (2015), pp. 7485-7500.

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