Creativity Prize - 8th Award


Dr. Günter Blöschl (Vienna University of Technology) and Dr. Murugesu Sivapalan (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

Dr. Blöschl and Dr. Sivapalan have launched a ground-breaking new paradigm for water management studies in the emergent Anthropocene. Named Sociohydrology, this is a new validated approach for studying the dynamic interactions and bi-directional feedbacks between water systems and people. It allows predictions on a scale of many decades to be made in a changing environment by considering the effects of societal actions on hydrology and the effects of hydrological phenomena on societal development. Through their joint efforts, Drs Blöschl and Sivapalan have demonstrated the power of this approach for the prediction of long-term human-flood dynamics. Their work is increasingly important for addressing many vexing water management challenges in the face of population growth and climate change.

This work was built on a solid foundation of prior research that the team undertook on predictions in ungauged basins (PUB). Under PUB, the team developed a novel, universally applicable seven-step method for flood predictions in ungauged basins by developing a mechanistic, physically-based understanding of the incidence of flooding, considering long-term effects like soil moisture variations modulated by precipitation, evaporation and snow melt. They drew up a similarity framework for transferring flood information from gauged to ungauged basins, based on similarity of climate, catchment, and hydrological features. They then compiled data from over 20,000 catchments from around the world to provide the first-ever global assessment of flood prediction performance across distinct climate and landscape gradients.

Winner Profiles

Dr. Günter Blöschl

Dr. Blöschl is Professor of Hydrology and Water Resources and Head of the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management at the Vienna University of Technology.


• 1997 - Senior doctorate (Habilitation), Hydrology, Vienna University of Technology, Austria
• 1990 - PhD, Hydrology with honours, Vienna University of Technology, Austria
• 1985 - Dipl.-Ing., Civil Engineering with honours, Vienna University of Technology, Austria

Selected Awards:

2015 Robert E. Horton Medal: American Geophysical Union (AGU), Washington DC, USA 2013 International Hydrology Prize: International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS), UNESCO, WMO International
2011 - ERC Advanced Grant Laureate: European Research Council, Brussels, EU
2009 - Union Service Award: European Geosciences Union, Katlenburg, EU
2008 - Commemorative Medal: Slovak Technical University, Bratislava, Slovakia
1998 - R&D Award: United States Army, European Research Office, USA
1995 - Lise Meitner Award: FWF Austrian Science Funds, Vienna Austria
1992 - Schrödinger Award: FWF Austrian Science Funds, Vienna Austria
1992 - German-Austrian University Software Award: German-Austrian Software Foundation, Germany
1989 - NSERC Award: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada



Dr. Murugesu Sivapalan

Dr. Sivapalan is the Chester and Helen Siess Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Professor of Geography and Geographic Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


• 1986 - Ph.D., Civil Engineering (major in Hydrology), Princeton University, New Jersey, USA
• 1983 - M.A., Civil Engineering (major in Hydrology), Princeton University, New Jersey, USA
• 1977 - M. Eng., Water Resources Engineering, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand
• 1975 - B.Sc. Eng. (Hons), Civil Engineering, University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

Selected Awards:

2017 - Alfred Wegener Medal & Honorary Membership: European Geosciences Union (EGU)
2016 - Water Resources Research Editor's Choice Award (Elshafei et al.), American Geophysical Union
2012 - Doctor Honoris Causa (Honorary Doctorate), Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
2011 - Robert E. Horton Medal: American Geophysical Union (AGU)
2011 - Distinguished Alumni Award: Asian Institute of Technology Alumni Association (AITAA), Thailand
2010 - Hydrological Sciences Award: American Geophysical Union (AGU)
2010 - International Hydrology Prize: International Association of Hydrological Sciences/UNESCO/WMO
2003 - Centenary Medal: Commonwealth Government of Australia
2003 - John Dalton Medal: European Geosciences Union (EGU, formerly EGS)
2002 - Winner, WA Water Industry Awards (along with Matthew Hipsey and Iain Laing)
2001 - Biennial Medal (Natural Systems): Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand

Acceptance Speech

unhq300x300Your Royal Highness, Honorable UN Secretary General, Council Members, colleagues and friends, and esteemed members of the audience

It is a tremendous honor for myself and for my colleague Siva Sivapalan to receive this prestigious award today. We are truly grateful to his highness the late Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz for his vision in establishing this prize to support and recognize science that contributes to sustainable water solutions for society, and to Prince Khalid Bin Sultan and the Prize Council for seeing fit to award the prize this year to us for our work on socio-hydrology.

Relevance of science for society is something that strikes a chord with both Siva and myself. Combining theory and practice involves a two-way feedback. Advancing scientific hydrology can contribute tremendously to better decision making in practical applications and we hope that the science of socio-hydrology too will further contribute to safeguarding long-term water security in a changing world.

As Leonardo da Vinci put it, “He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.” Practice sharpens the focus on what is important in scientific research and helps guide the research agenda along relevant topics. Just like water science is at its best when experiments, modeling and theory come together, it is the combination of theory and practice that makes our science thrive and prosper.

Flood research is a case in point. There are intriguing scientific questions of whether the flood risk along our rivers has increased, the nature of the relevant drivers such as climate change, land use change and river training, and the role of human actions in all this. At the same time, long-term predictions of flood risk – based on an understanding of these very driving processes – is of extremely high societal relevance. Our goal in socio-hydrology has been to understand the long-term dynamics of these processes over decades, including two-way feedbacks between water dynamics in landscapes and human water management decisions. The understanding of such coupled human-water system dynamics is essential for making long-term predictions.

We view the recognition we are receiving today not just as a personal achievement, but as a tribute to those closest to us who have supported us over the years through their generosity. We would like to thank our research groups at the Vienna University of Technology and the University of Illinois, and our many collaborators around the world, who have contributed immensely to the rapid development of socio-hydrology, and the International Association of Hydrological Sciences for our nomination. We would like to especially thank our families who have over the years supported and guided us in our endeavors.

Günter Blöschl


unhq300x300Your Royal Highness, Honorable UN Secretary General, Council Members, esteemed members of the audience, ladies and gentlemen

I want to add to Günter’s remarks with some personal reflections. When I was 15 years old my parents expected me to become a medical doctor, the only thing they could understand and relate to. I was working hard to fulfill their ambition. One day a work colleague of my father, an amateur astrologer/palmist, visited us. When prompted, he predicted that he saw a career related to water in the lines on my palm. My parents were disappointed that I may not become a doctor as they had hoped, and confused – as to what kind of a job there is in water? The best thing they could come up with was that I might become a sanitary inspector, one who advises households on sanitation practices. Looking at the caliber of people being recognized today there is less chance for 15 year olds of today and their parents to think there isn’t an exciting career in water. We can thank the Prince Sultan International Prize for Water for that.

A series of accidents followed in my career. I was forced to abandon medicine, for other reasons, and later was chosen to do engineering. When it came to my specialization, I chose hydrology because I had a better chance on a scholarship, not because it had anything to do with water. Up until a decade ago, the focus of my hydrology research had been more about understanding the physical world around us, and less about water or people. When Günter and I launched socio-hydrology six years ago it was a culmination of many years of observation and reflection about the research we were both doing in the context of a changing world, in the emergent Anthropocene, and the realization that people must be considered internal to the water systems we studied, and not external drivers or observers.

One month ago I attended a conference in my home province of Jaffna in Sri Lanka, which is suffering serious water security issues. In this region, the focus to date has been on purely technocratic solutions. Our common experience in socio-hydrology, dealing with complex water management issues, encouraged me to advocate broader (holistic) and “softer” solutions, and to argue that narrow technocratic solutions may work in the short term, but in the long term can result in unintended, even adverse consequences. I am very hopeful that, with the recognition that socio-hydrology has received, this message will go out to all communities around the world, not just Jaffna, trying to tackle vexing water problems in a wide range of contexts by considering broader societal perspectives.

Your Royal Highness, we are grateful to you and the Prize Council for the recognition of our work through this prize. This prize is most significant because it recognizes sustainable management solutions to complex water problems that help the most vulnerable sections of society.

Thank you.

Murugesu Sivapalan

Winning Work

[1] Blöschl, G., M. Sivapalan, T. Wagener, A. Viglione and H. H. G. Savenije (2013) Runoff Prediction in Ungauged Basins ‐ Synthesis across Processes, Places and Scales.

[2] Salinas, J.L., G. Laaha, M. Rogger, J. Parajka, A. Viglione, M. Sivapalan and G. Blöschl (2013) Comparative assessment of predictions in ungauged basins; Part 2: Flood and low flow studies. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 17, 2637‐2652, (2013).

[3] Sivapalan, M., H. H. G. Savenije and G. Blöschl (2012) Socio‐hydrology: A new science of people and water. Hydrological Processes, 26, 1270–1276.

[4] Sivapalan, M. and G. Blöschl (2015) Time scale interactions and the co‐evolution of humans and water, Water Resour. Res., 51, 6988–7022.

[5] Blöschl, G., et al. (2017) Changing climate shifts timing of European floods. Science, 357 (6351) 588‐590.

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