Prize Council Announces Winners for the 6th Award

The Council for the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water has announced the winners of its 6th Award (2014).

The announcement was made at the Prize Council meeting, which was held in Riyadh on 12 October 2014 and presided over by PSIPW Council chairman, HRH Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz.

The Awards Ceremony will be held in Riyadh on 15 December 2014, concurrently with the 6th International Conference on Water Resources and Arid Environments (ICWRAE 6), which will run from 16-18 December 2014.


Nominations are now open for the 7th Award. Nominations can be made for all five prizes directly through the PSIPW website.

Winners for the 6th Award

The Creativity Prize is being split between two winning teams:

Creativity Prize: The team of Dr. Eric F Wood and Dr. Justin Sheffield (Princeton University).

They are being awarded the Creativity Prize for their 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 into, or 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 draught 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, explaining why tree-ring drought reconstructions diverge from earlier drought records and altering 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.

Creativity Prize: the GPS Reflections Group led by Dr. Kristine M. Larson (University of Colorado, Boulder), and including Dr. Eric E. Small (University of Colorado), Dr. Valery Zavorotny (NOAA) and Dr. John Braun (UCAR).

The team is being awarded the Creativity Prize for their discovery that standard geodetic GPS instruments are sensitive to hydrological influences and the subsequent development of a new, unexpected, and cost-effective technique, GPS Interferometric Reflectometry (GPS-IR), to measure soil moisture, snow depth, and vegetation water content.

GPS-IR is based on the discovery that the “noise” (interference pattern) observed with ordinary GPS instruments correlates with the water content of the reflecting surface in the vicinity of the receiving antenna.

This method of measuring soil moisture complements the cosmic ray technique (COSMOS) of Dr. Marek Zreda and Dr. Darin Desilets, a work previously honored by the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water back in 2010. Whereas COSMOS provides soil moisture averages over a circular area of radius 300 m to a depth of several decimeters, continuously-operating GPS receivers can be used to estimate soil moisture variations over areas of radius 50 m to a maximum depth of 6 cm, with greatest sensitivity to the upper 1 cm of soil depth at near saturation.  Furthermore, GPS-IR has the advantage of relying on an existing GPS infrastructure installed by surveyors and geoscientists that covers an increasingly large portion of the global surface (including more than 12,000 continuously-operating GPS systems on and near a wide range of soil and vegetation types around the world). Its ability to reliably measure and track snow depth is extremely important because on-site snow distribution data are sparse and remotely sensed data are imprecise as well as coarse-scale. The ability of GPS-IR to sense and track vegetation growth complements conventional remote sensing data that have limited temporal coverage and do not work well in the presence of clouds.


Surface Water Prize: Dr. Larry Mays (Arizona State University, USA).

The Surface Water Prize is awarded to Dr. Mays for his comprehensive work in surface water hydrology and water resources engineering, culminating in three leading and innovative textbooks in the field and the development of optimization models in practical hydrology for current problems, including real-time optimal dam release during flood conditions and watershed development in urban areas.

The books by Mays, with their breadth, depth and broad relevance, have made a unique and tangible contribution to water resources engineering and the management of water resources throughout the world. His books include Ancient Water Technologies (2010), Ground and Surface Water Hydrology (2012), and Integrated Urban Water Management: Arid and Semi-Arid Regions (2008).

One of his most unique contributions is to demonstrate how ancient water technologies can be applied today to manage water resources in concentrated urban areas and alleviate many present-day sustainability problems.


Groundwater Prize: Dr. Jesús Carrera Ramirez (Institute for Environmental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA), CSIC, Barcelona, Spain).

The Groundwater Prize is awarded to Dr. Carrera for his decisive contributions to the development of mathematical hydrogeology and transport modeling in groundwater systems.

His work increases the significance and relevance of computer simulations for groundwater, by re-estimating the value of governing parameters, identifying new mechanisms and parameters to describe transport phenomena in groundwater, and searching for solutions on transport situations that are not described by standard simulation techniques.

As a result, he has made a quantitative identification of the processes and searched for solutions to these phenomena, including the globally critical problem of seawater intrusion and water salinisation in arid regions. His developments in the field of groundwater conservative and reactive transport modelling have advanced the field towards the reliable prediction of the long‐term fate of pollutants in environmental systems.

Alternative Water Resources Prize: Dr. Polycarpos Falaras (National Center for Scientific Research “Demokritos”, Athens, Greece), coordinator of the European Union’s CLEANWATER Project.

The Alternative Water Resources Prize is awarded to Dr. Falaras for the development of a novel water detoxification technology by taking advantage of solar light and advanced titania photocatalysts combined with ceramic and composite membranes.

This is an innovative and efficient water detoxification technology exploiting solar energy and nano-engineered titania photocatalysts in combination with nanofiltration membranes for the destruction of extremely hazardous toxins and pollutants in natural waters and water supplies.

Conventional membrane technologies to remove pathogens and toxins from drinking water rely exclusively on the physical separation (i.e., ‘‘sieving’’) of pathogenic microorganisms and other contaminants. In particular, the concentrate stream, which can be a significant percentage of the volume of treated water, will contain active pathogenic microorganisms. This waste stream can impose a serious threat to the receiving stream or site of discharge if not further treated.

The new technology, by contrast, by focusing on advanced oxidation processes with global environmental applications, brings about the photocatalytic degradation of contaminants during the filtration process and permits efficient water purification. Moreover, it does so under normal solar light conditions, a key factor for the reduction of energy requirements for water treatment. Falaras’ work also emphasizes the use of novel, environmentally friendly materials and represents a cost-effective cutting-edge application of nanotechnology for enhancing water quality.

Water Management & Protection Prize: Dr. William W-G. Yeh (University of California, Los Angeles, USA).

The Water Management & Protection Prize is awarded to Dr. Yeh for his development of optimization models to plan, manage and operate large-scale water resources systems throughout the world.

His methodology utilizing systems analysis techniques — as well as the algorithms he developed for the real-time operation of complex, multiple-purpose, multiple-reservoir systems — have been adopted in the United States and throughout the globe, most notably in Brazil, Korea, Taiwan and the People's Republic of China.

Dr. Yeh’s many achievements include the development of the operation rules and optimization of California’s reservoir and water distribution systems; the water distribution system model and optimization for water supply for the city of San Paulo, Brazil; and the management and operation of large‐scale hydropower systems, such as the Brazilian hydropower system and the Three Gorges Project in China. His work represents the practical and novel application of new methods to deal with many different and difficult aspects of water management under a wide and diverse range of situations.