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About the Hydrosystems Research Group

The goal of our research is to understand and model human-hydrologic systems to improve societal responses to water resources challenges. Human-hydrologic systems are particularly vulnerable to climate variability and climate change and climate risk assessment and management is a focus area. The findings of this research will provide insight for planning and adapting the design and management of water resource systems for a sustainable future. Read more on the “About” page.


Assessing Climate Risks to the Niger River Basin Investment Program

The Niger River basin runs across 9 countries, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon and Chad.  Approximately 100 million people are dependent in some way on the river for livelihood, trade, transportation, food etc. Siltation, pollution and climate change are amongst the most significant factors that are affecting the quality and quantity of river flows.  Climate change impacts on activities beyond the hydrological aspects, and solutions to addressing them are still not well known.  More importantly, even impacts that are already visible are not yet being systematically addressed despite the significant investments that are likely to be made in the basin in the near future. At the recent Heads of State Summit held in Niamey, April 28 to 30, 2008, a 20-year investment Program worth US$ 6.8 billion was approved, for implementation in four phases.

In this effort we will use the existing Niger River Basin system model currently maintained by the Niger Basin Authority in the Mike Basin modeling environment to conduct a climate risk assessment of the existing and proposed infrastructure within the basin.  The analysis will be performed using an inverse modeling framework to first identify climate risks and then use GCM output to estimate the probability of problematic climate change in terms of impacts.  This approach allows downscaling to be tailored to the specific issues of interest and avoids the propagation of climate model uncertainty by reserving their use until the final step of analysis. This project is funded by The World Bank.


Updates 2014

  • Umit Taner and Casey Brown lead stakeholder workshop revealing results of the climate risk assessment for the Niger River Basin in Niamey, Niger, January 7-9, 2014.
  • Katherine Lownsbery leads water resources modeling workshop for the Niger Basin Authority in Burkina Faso
  • AGU Fall Meeting 2014!:  Casey Brown, Scott Steinschneider and Umit Taner gave oral presentations; Patrick Ray, Sungwook Wi, Ethan Yang, Sarah Whateley, and Katherine Lownsbery presented posters.
  • Casey Brown presented at the World Bank Decision Making Under Uncertainty workshop hosted by Stephane Hallegatte in Washington DC, Nov 4-6, 2013.

Adaptive Management Planning for the International Upper Great Lakes Study

The regulation plans that control flows between the Great Lakes have important consequences for navigation, shipping, recreational boating, hydroelectricity production, the Lake shore residents and ecosystem health.  Recent variations in lake levels on Superior, Huron and Michigan led to the formation of the International Upper Great Lakes Study by the International Joint Commission to assess the physical changes to the lakes and the need for a new regulation plan for Lake Superior outflows.  In this study, we will develop an adaptive management framework to optimize the regulation plan design for resilience to the considerable uncertainty related to future climate variability and change.  We will pursue a Bayesian decision making scheme to establish thresholds for switching between regulation plans given prevailing climate conditions and forecasted lake levels.  More information related to this study can be found here. This project is funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Recent Awards

  • NOAA, “A Water Management Knowledge Network for the Urban Northeast,” 2012-2014.
  • DoD-SERDP, “Decision-Scaling: A Decision Framework for DoD Climate Risk Assessment and Adaptation Planning,” 2012 – 2015
  • The World Bank, Assessing Climate Risk to Water and Food Security in the Indus River Basin.” 2010 – 2011
  • Water Environment Research Foundation, “Transforming Our Cities:  High  Performance Green Infrastructure.” 2010 – 2011 (subcontract with GeoSyntec).
  • The National Science Foundation, “CAREER: Robust Management of Climate Uncertainty for Ecohydrological Sustainability.” 2011 – 2016.
  • NOAA, “Collaborative Development of Climate Information for the Connecticut River Basin using Shared Vision Forecasting.”  2010 – 2012.
  • NOAA, “RISA: Climate Consortium for the Urban Northeast (CCRUN).” (co-PI with Columbia University lead), 2010 – 2015.

Updates 2012

Invited Presentation:  “Water security and economic growth” at the 2012 International Water Security Conference in Oxford, UK, April 16-18.

New Award:  Department of Defense, SERDP “Decision-Scaling: A Decision Framework for DoD Climate Risk Assessment and Adaptation Planning.”

Invited Presentation:  “Decision-Scaling and Robust Adaptation in Water Resources Planning” at the AWRA Spring Specialty Conference in Baltimore, April 18, 2011.

New Award:   National Science Foundation CAREER Award, Robust Water Management for Ecohydrologic Sustainability under Climate Uncertainty.”

EPA Workshop: Resilient Water Management Strategies for a Changing Climate, June 8 – 10, 2010, NYC.  Our presentation,Decision-Scaling: A Decision Analytic Approach to Using Climate Information, on June 9 at 2:10 pm.

Workshop: Niger Basin Authority Climate Change, Ouaguadougou, Burkina Faso, May 24 – 26, 2010.  Presentation of our analysis of climate risks to the investment plan of the Niger Basin.

Workshop: Nonstationarity, Hydrologic Frequency Analysis and Water Management, January 13 – 15, 2010, Boulder, Colorado.  Our presentation: Engineering with unreliable frequency estimates.”

Presentation: World Bank Sustainable Development Network Forum, January 19 – 20, 2010.  Our presentation on Niger Basin analysis.

Improved Reservoir Operations for Ecosystem Health in the Connecticut River Basin

Proper management of a complex river system requires careful evaluation of the natural river ecosystem, the constructed infrastructure, environmental requirements, informed decision-making, and the needs of those living in the basin. The largest and one of the most highly developed rivers in New England, the Connecticut River has had its natural flows altered due to both the development of dams and reservoirs and substantial changes in land use and urbanization (and its associated increase in the discharge of storm water and wastewater). A significant change on the Connecticut is the reduction in the natural variability of the flow regime.   This is a detriment to the substantial ecosystem restoration efforts being made within the basin, including the reintroduction of Atlantic Salmon and restoration of floodplain forest ecosystems.  In this project we will model the major infrastructure that alters flows in the Connecticut and evaluate how operational policies might be modified to enhance the environmental quality of the timing and magnitude of streamflows.   The use of hydrologic forecasts on daily to seasonal timescales will be evaluated in close collaboration with the operator of the major water infrastructure. This project is funded by The Nature Conservancy.