Lecture Notes

And so it begins…McGill University (1/50)

And so it begins.

I’ve just returned from my first of 50 (+/-) lectures as part of the 2012 Birdsall-Dreiss Lectureship of the Geological Society of America. First stop: McGill University in Montreal.  My talk on water cycle change using GRACE was well-received. As is common for a new talk, there is lots of room for improvement!

The Amazon River network as represented in the HydroSHEDS global digital river network dataset from Bernhard Lehner and the WWF.

My host, Tom Gleeson, an Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering, is doing killer work on large-scale groundwater dynamics. Be sure to check out his GRL paper on a global dataset on aquifer permeability. Tom has just started at McGill and has exciting plans for his upcoming research.  It was great to hear about his future projects, including for his work on global submarine groundwater discharge (good estimates are much-needed) and on modeling…fracking!  Way to go Tom!  And what a gracious host. Great company. Amazing food. If the rest of the tour goes like this I’ll need to buy some bigger pants.

I also had the good fortune to reconnect with Bernhard Lehner, an Assistant Professor in Geography, and to meet several of his students and research team. I first met Bernhard many years ago at a European Geophysical Society (now European Geosciences Union) meeting (Spring 2000?), and was so impressed with his DEM processing knowledge that I asked him join me for his Ph.D. studies.   Somehow Bernhard was able to resist my offer and went on to the World Wildlife Foundation, where he developed the HydroSHEDS digital, global river network dataset (did you see the map in National Geographic?)…and well, the world is now a better place!  Bernhard and his students may refer to me as ‘Mr. GRACE,’  but Bernhard will always be ‘Mr. HydroSHEDS’ in my book.

It was cold and rainy in Montreal, but it was a not an unpleasant change from SoCal, and great to see a campus with leaves that change color and lots of beautiful old architecture.  For you potential grad students out there, if you’re looking for a great program with some fine, rising star faculty, you should give McGill a serious look!

It's dripping wet up here in Canada! That's me, drinking from a meltwater stream on the disappearing Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park, Alberta

Let’s face it. Canada is literally dripping with water.  Whenever I fly over Canada I see so many lakes and bulging rivers that it seems like the water table must be about a foot from the surface on average.  The place is oozing.  I don’t expect that the average Canadian, much like the average American, gives water issues much thought, except perhaps in dry years when they can’t fill their hockey rinks. It is however, a country that will experience profound change as its high latitudes warm, and snow, permafrost and glaciers melt. And all that frozen organic stuff in the boreal forest starts to decompose. How these changes will play out is anyone’s guess. (On that note be sure to check out UCLA prof Larry Smith’s book ‘The World in 2050’).  What I see instead is a nation that will emerge as resource rich with respect to oil, gas and water, albeit one that will have to grapple with balancing the environmental consequences of refining oil from tar sands, and of course of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction (think Gasland), with the economic boom it will surely experience in the coming decades.

About Jay Famiglietti

Jay Famiglietti is a Professor of Earth System Science of and Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Irvine, and the Senior Water Scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. He and his research team use satellites and develop computer models to track changing freshwater availability and groundwater depletion around the world. Famiglietti is an active speaker, a frequent advisor to national and international government officials on water issues, and a regular contributor the National Geographic Water Currents and to the Huffington Post blogs.


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Design professional Richard Vijgen's rendering of GRACE and USGS groundwater depletion data displayed on Times Square beginning on World Water Day, March 22, 2012.

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