2012 Birdsall-Dreiss Abstracts

These are the two lectures that I am delivering as part of the Birdsall-Dreiss Lectureship.  A lecture request form is here.

Water Cycle Change and the Human Fingerprint on the Water Landscape of the 21st Century: Observations from a Decade of GRACE

Over the last decade, satellite observations of Earth’s water cycle from NASA’s GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) mission, have provided an unprecedented view of global hydrological change and freshwater availability.  Since its launch, the mission has helped to confirm that precipitation, evaporation and continental discharge rates are increasing, that the mid-latitudes are drying while the high and low latitudes are moistening, and that the hydrologic extremes of flooding and drought are becoming even more extreme. Importantly, GRACE has exposed the human fingerprint of water management practices such as groundwater use and reservoir storage, which raises many important issues for climate, water, food and economic security.  Moreover, the GRACE mission has enabled us to peer beneath Earth’s surface and  characterize the worldwide depletion of groundwater aquifers, raising significant concerns about the potential for heightened conflict over transboundary water resources.  In this talk I review the basics of how the GRACE mission observes terrestrial and global hydrology, what new information the mission has provided since its launch in 2002, and the implications for the future of water availability and sustainable water resources management. 

A Strategy for Accelerating the Development of Hydrological Models: Societal Needs, Observational Requirements and Public Communication

While the development of hydrological and land surface models has progressed rapidly over the last few decades, a significant acceleration in model development is required in order to address critical societal issues of water, energy and food availability and security.  In particular, major advances are needed in the areas of observations (e.g. of water cycle variability and change, of subsurface soils and hydrogeology, and of streamflow and groundwater levels), model development (e.g. of models that integrate the major components of the human and managed water cycles), data assimilation (e.g. of algorithms that can readily incorporate in situ and remote observations of asynchronous space-time frequency) and of a framework for integrating models and data (e.g. for access to data and simulation results, for running models, and for performing analyses). In this presentation we discuss these needs in detail, and highlight recent efforts in California and at the national scale (i.e. with the Community Hydrologic Modeling Platform [CHyMP]) to develop a modeling and data integration framework that can be applied across scales up to continental and global scales. Finally, the responsibility of the hydrologic research community to convey such important observational and simulation needs to resource managers, environmental decision and policy makers, and the general public, is underscored.

Papers and Reports

GRL Cover for Central Valley groundwater paper

Central Valley Groundwater Depletion

Famiglietti, J. S., M. Lo, S. L. Ho, K. J. Anderson, J. Bethune, T. H. Syed, S. C. Swenson, C. R. de Linage and M. Rodell, 2011, Satellites Measure Recent Rates of Groundwater Depletion in California’s Central Valley, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L03403, doi:10.1029/2010GL046442

India Groundwater Depletion

Rodell, M., I. Velicogna and J. Famiglietti, 2009, Satellite-based estimates of groundwater depletion in India, Nature, doi:10.1038/nature08238

Increasing Global Streamflow

Syed, T. H., J. S. Famiglietti, D. Chambers, J. Willis, K. Hilburn, 2010, Satellite-Based Global Ocean Mass Balance Estimates of Interannual Variability and Emerging Trends in Continental Freshwater Discharge, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 107 (42) 17916-17921; published ahead of print October 4, 2010, doi:10.1073/pnas.1003292107

Newspaper Coverage

New York Times, May 31, 2011, Science Times cover, Groundwater Depletion is Detected from Space

Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2010, A Rise in River Flows Raises Alarm

San Francisco Chronicle, December 15, 2009, front page,  Pumping Depletes Central Valley Water, Data Show

Jay Famiglietti and UCI hydrology students filming “Last Call at the Oasis”

Water Documentary: Last Call at the Oasis

My students and I have the good fortune to appear in the Participant Media/ATO Pictures documentary on water issues, called Last Call at the Oasis.  Participant is the production company behind An Inconvenient Truth, Food, Inc., and Waiting for SupermanLast Call is directed by Academy Award winner Jessica Yu (Breathing Lessons), and produced by Academy Award nominee Elise Pearlstein (Food, Inc.).  The movie opened May 4, 2012, and is playing in selected theaters across the country.  Here’s the trailer and a clip below, and you can watch the intro here!


GRACE: Tracking Water from Space. This video was produced by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and plays in its Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth, as well as in several other museums and science centers around the country.  The Education group at the AMNH has developed a very successful professional development workshop for middle and high school science teachers based around GRACE and the video.

An Indian Hotspot. Nature Videos produced a short segment in support of our paper on groundwater depletion in India (download above). We can’t embed it, but you can link to it here.

The Future of Water.  A 60-second Skyped sound bite for the Future of Water Virtual Conference. It is essentially the 60-second version of my talk on water cycle change.


A selection for PR purposes is here. Please be sure to give credit to the photographers. Their names are found in the titles of the photo files.

Bio and Curriculum Vitae

Check the About page for a short bio.  Click here for a short c.v.

For more resources visit the UCCHM and the UCI Hydrogroup websites


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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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