Lecture Notes

The STIA Loewy Lecture at Georgetown University (2/50)

Going head-to-head with Ronnie at Georgetown. Who's got the bigger sign, eh Gipper?

A visit with Georgetown University’s Science, Technology and International Affairs (STIA) program in the School of Foreign Service would be an eye opener for most of us in the water research community.  In the world of international affairs and security, the observables and metrics are just different than ours. In water research, we think about quantity, quality, and driving our entire water infrastructure towards more sustainable water management. The international affairs community, however, looks at our charts and figures, and worries instead about the vulnerability of management and governance systems, shifting political alliances and the emergence of hydropolitics. They witness my presentation on water cycle change, and beyond the colors and the lines, they see conflict, cultural, and political upheavals, and the vast potential for generalized unhappiness. It is, without a doubt, a different world.

However, it is a world that we in water research absolutely must inform with the best available science. My introduction to this community has come through 2011 Georgetown STIA grad and current UCCHM Policy Fellow Kate Voss, whom I first supervised as an undergraduate NSF REU student at UCI in the summer of 2009.  More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and continuing discussions with UCI CUSA Director and former STIA affiliate Richard Matthew. Together Kate and Richard have been instrumental in illuminating the profound implications of our group’s research – Kate more on the need for transboundary policy that actually works, and Richard more on the darker side of conflict and security.  Kate, now a Princeton in Asia fellow based in Kathmandu, was solely responsible for my invitation to deliver this year’s STIA Loewy Lecture at Georgetown.

STIA’s Loewy Lecture is one that is building a considerable reputation, and one that I was honored to

Statue of Georgetown University founder John Carroll outside iconic Healy Hall

give. Past lecturers have included Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman, NASA Director Michael Griffin, and internet inventor (one of the real ones) Bob Kahn.  Hmmm, no pressure there!   I relied heavily on input from Richard and Kate to make the appropriate connections to this crowd, which I imagine was a bit more ‘intimate’ than say Biden’s or Lieberman’s. Although policy issues are clearly not my forte, I think I was able to alert the audience to the very serious potential pitfalls on the road to our global water future. Whatever side of the coin you’re on — policy or science — it is simply not pretty.  My talk emphasized the need for international data transparency, and for the development of a global framework for environmental law, policy, civil and technological infrastructure for sharing water resources across political boundaries.  Please look for my upcoming Opinion for a more detailed look at the emerging concerns and needs that follow from our research on our changing water cycle and freshwater availability.

These days I find that more and more students seeking Ph.D.’s are interested in having their research impact policy decisions, and otherwise make a difference.  Kate was the first to knock on my door with such a request, and since then, a steady stream has found its way into my office, including current students Sasha Richey, Stephanie Castle, Hrishi Chandanpurkar and Kurt Solander. I fully support this endeavor, and I am thrilled that they can act as the bridge between my core research in science and engineering, and the expertise of graduates and colleagues like those from Georgetown’s STIA program.

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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