by Judith Curry
Peter Webster has been awarded the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Creativity Prize for Water.
Apart from the fact that Peter Webster is my partner in many things, including our company Climate Forecast Application Network, I am focusing this post on Peter Webster’s contributions, because this award is relevant to a major theme during the earlier years of this blog:
- Pakistan on my mind
- Pakistan flood follow-up
- Politics and predicting the Pakistan floods
- Improving weather forecasts for the developing world
Some background about the Prince SultanBin Abdelaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW):
The Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW) is a scientific prize with a focus on innovation. Established in 2002 by HRH Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, it rewards the efforts made by scientists, inventors and research organizations around the world which contribute to the sustainable availability of potable water and the alleviation of the escalating global problem of water scarcity.
To this end, PSIPW awards a suite of five biennial prizes, covering the entire water research landscape. In this way, PSIPW encourages research to find solutions to the various water-related challenges facing the world today.
The full citation for Webster’s award:
The prize is awarded to Dr. Webster for his work on ocean-atmosphere interactions and their effect on monsoon strength, which is used to provide one to two-week lead time forecasts of monsoonal floods that often provoke catastrophic inundations in highly populated coastal regions.
Dr. Webster started using the European Centre for Medium Range Forecasting (ECMWF) global model for predicting the active and break cycles of the monsoon and developed a method for forecasting upcoming dry and wet spells based on statistical analysis of the ECMWF output. He combined the ECMWF weather forecasts with a river runoff model to forecast river flow and also the inundation following the flood “front”. The system has been able to predict with remarkable accuracy the probability of floods that have devastated Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, and India in the last several years. He then went beyond led the development of the Climate Forecast Applications in Bangladesh (CFAB) project, in which he developed and implemented a probabilistic rainfall and river discharge forecast system for the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers in Bangladesh, which were successfully put to test in the 2007 and 2008 floods. In 2012, Webster helped the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) to obtain a regional stream of the daily ECMWF forecast output. With this data, RIMES was able to take over the CFAB forecasts for Bangladesh, providing them daily to the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre of Bangladesh. He has also applied these models to the Indus River.
I am appending these congratulatory words from John Bates of NOAA NCEI, that were emailed to me as encouragement to write a blog post on Peter’s award:
Congratulations to my friend and colleague Peter Webster for being awarded the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW) Creativity Prize. As described in the PSIPW web site (http://www.psipw.org/), “PSIPW is a leading, global scientific award focusing on cutting-edge innovation in water research. It gives recognition to scientists, researchers and inventors around the world for pioneering work that addresses the problem of water scarcity in creative and effective ways. To this end, PSIPW offer a suite of five prizes every two years, covering the entire water research landscape.”
Peter won this prestigious award for his innovative and ground-breaking work using medium-range forecast models to predict active and break cycles of the monsoon system in Southeast Asia. This work is an outgrowth of Peter’s multi-decadal work in seeking to better understand variability in the tropics and his focus on turning those research results into applications for the benefit of humanity. Peter used his unique insight into the working of the monsoon to provide highly skillful predictions of the probability of flooding in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, and India in the past few years. These techniques have now been placed in operations providing an early-warning system in that region and benefitting millions.
Peter Webster received the Prize in an awards ceremony at the United Nations headquarters in New York yesterday (November 2), presided over by the U.N. General Secretary H.E. Mr. Ban Ki Moon, and by PSIPW Chairman H.R.H. Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz.
Full text of Webster’s acceptance speech:
His Royal Highness, His excellence Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Ambassador, Distinguished Guests and Colleagues,
It is a great honor to receive the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Creativity Prize for Water jointly with Drs. Rita Colwell and Shafiqul Islam whose important work I have followed and admired for many years. I would like to thank my nominators and the International Panel for choosing me.
Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz was a man of great foresight. He is remembered for his philanthropy and for his service to his people. He is equally remembered both nationally and internationally his environmentalism that has inspired significant progress in hydrological and climate science and its application to the betterment of mankind.
Many of the largest rivers on the planet emanate from the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas fed by glacial and snow melting and monsoon rainfall. Nearly 25% of the global population reside near these rivers, which are subject to periods of widespread and long-lived flooding and sometimes crippling drought. Flooding remains the greatest cause of death and destruction in the developing world, leading to catastrophic loss of life and property. While almost every government in Asia has made substantial progress over the past two decades in saving the lives of victims of slow-onset flood disasters, such events remain relentlessly impoverishing. The loss of crops and the purchased agricultural inputs typically place a farming family in debt for several years, by which time the cycle is generally repeated, condemning successive generations to the treadmill of poverty.
Following the devastating floods in Bangladesh in 1998, we were asked if there was a way to forecast floods that would allow societies to prepare and mitigate potential damage. My team developed a dynamical model of the flow in Ganges and Brahmaputra to provide forecasts 10-15 days in advance. To be useful, the lead-time of the forecast had to be at least 7 days which would allow the slowest group of a society (e.g., a farmer and his cattle) time to find safe refuge. Our forecast methodology has proven very useful in Bangladesh, where it is used operationally by the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES). The forecast system is extendable to other regions of the world and we have shown that the Pakistan floods of 2010, 2011 and 2012 were predictable. We are working to make our forecast systems available and useable, for the less-developed nations. This is a relatively cheap endeavor and would support the building of resilience for the poor of the world and allow them to anticipate risk and take action and chart their own destiny.
Thank you once again.
I attended the awards ceremony at the UN, my first visit to the UN. Interesting that my ID tag had me associated with the Saudi delegation.
The PSIPW put us up in a suite at The Plaza Hotel; the most expensive hotel room I have ever stayed in by an order of magnitude. I understand that the Prince Sultan’s suite was yet another order of magnitude more expensive.
I find it very gratifying that the International Water Prize has been established. This Prize recognizes scientists and engineers that are working to address a range of issues related to water. The monetary awards are significant, helping support applications of this research.
With regards to the recognition for Peter Webster, this Prize follows the 2015 AGU International Award (citation and response; link has a good overview of what he has done). Peter has spent two decades tirelessly working on forecasting schemes to help the peoples of South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan), with ~40 trips to India, 20 trips to Bangladesh and 1 trip to Pakistan. These efforts have often seemed like an exercise in beating your head against the wall (Peter’s words), with funding being almost impossible to obtain and many impediments to actually implementing any changes. In terms of the usual academic reward structure, there are few rewards for doing such applied research.
But Peter persevered (my contribution to all this has been to subsidize some of this research with funds from our company Climate Forecast Applications Network). And the recognition that he has received from the AGU and now the PSIPW is richly deserved. The monetary award will support our unfunded efforts to bring first-world weather forecasting technology to undeveloped and developing countries.