International Water Prize

by Judith Curry

Peter Webster has been awarded the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Creativity Prize for Water.

Peter shares the Creativity Prize with Rita Colwell and Shafiqul Islam. The announcement for the awards and the citations are found [here].

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:

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 (, “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.

Awards ceremony

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.

JC comments

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.

62 responses to “International Water Prize

  1. My comment is about frozen water, so it might be OT
    Just been watching BBC2’s reporter flying in a helicopter over a glacier in the south of Greenland. The glacier looks not only surprisingly filthy, it was black! never expected it to be so dirty, I felt a bit upset about it.
    Went onto BBC website and found it on the IPlayer, captured the screenshot, here it is.

    If it is Chinese carbon soot it is dreadful, if it is Iceland volcanoes ash accumulation on the surface from the years of melt, it might explain a lot about Greenland ice disappearing.
    If it is Chinese soot I’m thinking of boycotting ‘made in China’ stuff if I can do without it.

  2. But who won the prize for Air? After all, that’s the “iconic” temperature.

    • Congratulations for the prise and the “water” work. He also deserves recognition for his attempts to get archiving and reproducibility established for AGU published journals.

      Greg Goodman.

  3. Curious George

    I am glad to see that the prize did not go to Dr. Peter Gleick, a world renowned expert, innovator, and communicator on water and climate issues [and many other virtues].

  4. “In terms of the usual academic reward structure, there are few rewards for doing such applied research.”

    Sometimes the reward is in the achievement of good works!

    Please pass on sincere thanks and gratitude for a job well done! And please, Dr. Curry, accept the same for your involvement and other support!

    May continued good fortune find it’s way towards you both and ‘the team’.

    Highest regards!

    • Danny, You are so correct in acknowledging Judy Curry. She has been a steadfast support for our quest for “strategic adaptation” especially in the developing world.

  5. Well done both!

  6. Dr. Curry. Is the resulting model(s) for monsoons/floods considered an expert system that embodies Dr. Webster’s knowledge or is it a more straightforward shorter term climate model that uses fundamental physics or maybe some combination?

    • the streamflow/inundation model is driven by ensemble weather/climate forecasts

      • Curious George

        So I am asked to trust an ensemble. I never did that before. But then, I don’t award the prize. Maybe these forecasts don’t have obvious flaws. Congratulations in any case.

    • Determining the structure of the model requires an understanding of the necessary components. We opted for an “ensemble” approach that takes the 51 twice daily forecasts from ECMWF of precipitation in the Ganges/=Brahmaputra/Meghna basin. These are statistically corrected for model bias. The same corrections are applied to all subsequent forecasts. So there is no “expert opinion” each day. These were then used to drive our hydrological model. Why ensemble approach? It allows the probability P of the exceedance of a particular water level to be assessed. More to the point it allows the individual to determine risk R: R=P*C where C is the anticipated cost of such a water level occurring. Of course, C may be catastrophic if you are a low-land farmer. C may be extremely small if you are a money lender. In fact R may be thought of as profit. And these probabilities were used:

      As stated by an Imam from the Mosquein Koijuri Union of Sirajgong District in Bangladesh pilot studies
      “We disseminate the forecast information and how to read the flag and flood pillar to understand the risk during the prayer time. In my field, T. Aman was at seedling and transplanting stage, I used the flood forecast information for harvesting crops and making decision for seedling and transplantation of T. Aman. Also we saved household assets.”

      These savings averaged about an annual income. If the forecast were yes/no floods it would not allow decisions to be made. An arbitrary threshold of 80% was chosen.


  7. Congratulations to you both. And may you continue to go from strength to strength :-)

  8. Congratulations to both of you. Earned and deserved.

  9. Congratulations for an award that is well-deserved and earned.

    George Devries Klei, PhD, PG, FGSA

  10. Congrats to you both.

  11. Hi Peter

    CONGRATULATIONS!!! Very well deserved (and to you too Judy!)

    Roger Sr.

  12. Well done all


    • Steven Mosher

      You mean to include the folks who wrote ECMWF? and wasted all that money on computers? that do forecasts which you find unreliable?

      you mean to thank them too?

      • Hi Steve, We work closely with ECMWF and have for 20 years. They are very aware of how we feel about their forecast data. In fact without their collaboration, non of this would have been possible.

  13. This event just feels good.– for the recipient, but also for everyone. Something good!

  14. What’s important is that model works– making climate models is a lot like making candles: “There are literally thousands of reactions that go on from the moment the fuel vapor is produced and leaves the wick to the time it actually burns and produces Co2 and water.” (Howard Ross, NASA researcher, Discover)

  15. Congratulations to Peter Webster and also to Judith for your partnership in Webster in Climate Forecast Application Network.

  16. The extension of weather forecasting technology to cover regional floods and droughts over the medium term is IMO a most effective use of scientific resources that have immeasurable benefits for vulnerable communities.

    Congratulations to Peter on this occasion and the very best wishes to Judith and Peter for their future work together. Peter and Judith are IMO the poster children of selfless scientific endeavour and integrity.

  17. Message from kim at the Bish:

    ‘You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way
    the rain may fall,
    But one may come in handy when the water threatens all.’

  18. Congratulations!

  19. Peter and matthew, why not speak to kim @ the bish
    yerselves? U may have more influence than a mere serf.

  20. Geoff Sherrington

    Congrats. It was the bigger prize of the 5, too.
    In the Aussie way, did you leave all the mini bottles in the fridge, or toss them down?
    You are a few days late to put the prize on the Melbourne Cup.
    Never mind.

  21. Very good to hear. Congratulations!

  22. I know that this type of news will not make it into mainstream media, but I hope other blogs from all points of the spectrum will recognize this award. It shows that projects sponsored by someone a bit out of the “consensus” can focus on something other than the climate wars and actually do some good. Congratulations to Dr. Curry, who is already a hero to all serious “skeptics” and fact-based contrarians.

  23. Congratulations. This is what applied science and environmentalism should be about. Peter’s commitment and fortitude is to be admired.

  24. Thank you, Professor Curry, for this post and congratulations to Peter Weber for letting us see the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon awarding real science rather than pseudo-scientific evidence that planet Earth is independent of the Sun.

    Again, congratulations to Peter and you. The UN and especially the UN’s IPCC desperately needed credibility before the next US President is elected in five days!

  25. Ref 11 in my blog at contains links quantifying the rising global average water vapor. WV appears to be the “as yet unidentified factor” I referred to at

    Curious about where the increasing WV is coming from, some rough calculations show about 22% from increased average global temperature and nearly all of the rest from irrigation. Humanity’s energy use (which lots of folks are in a sweat about and are side tracked on CO2 which has no significant effect on climate) contributes only a tiny part.

    In line with PSIPW, the draw down of water tables world wide for irrigation looks like a looming real problem for humanity.

    • Dan,

      I’m not sure how accurate the figures are, but I saw a figure of 125 million metric tonnes or so petroleum equivalent fossil fuel consumption forblast year.

      Any hydrocarbon produces at least CO2 and H2O when burnt.

      Obviously a lot of H2O is produced by burning fossil fuels. I wouldn’t even know where to start figuring out where it goes, or if it’s important. Fuels like lignite have a high moisture content (up to 80%), but how much that contributes is beyond my desire to enquire.

      I agree water availability is a problem already, and likely to get worse. I live in hope of the impossible dream – fusion power or something totally unforeseen at present. Plenty of water in the oceans, eh? Just remove the salts!

      I’ll throw in congrats to Peter Weber (and Prof Curry, by association, of course) if I may.


      • Mike – I found 9301 MTOE per yr total world energy in Wikipedia which is 9.3E12 kg/yr. At 1kg H2O per kg fuel this gets about 1E13 kg/yr WV.
        Aquastat shows 2.51E15 kg/yr and someplace said irrigation efficiency was 56% so about 1.4E15kg/yr WV to the atmosphere. WV increases about 2.28E13 kg/yr per NASA/RSS (multi links are in my blog). WV increase from AGT increase used the NASA/Rss WV data and HadCRUT4 temperature data for the same time period, 6.25% WV increase per K degree from partial pressure tables on line.

        This is all early ruff stuff but a place to start.

        “Just remove the salts!” Yup, all it takes is energy. Current reverse osmosis costs about $.50/m^3 which is about 15 times what it costs starting with typical ‘fresh’ water.

      • Mike – I revisited the calcs and got only about 1.5% increase in WV from increased temperature in place of 22%. Seems low but I can’t find anything substantially wrong. This suggests nearly all of the increased WV is from irrigation.

      • Mike – Finally found the bug in the calcs. The contribution to WV increase as a result of AGT increase is about 33%. It simply assumes the % TPW due to temperature increase is the same as the % partial pressure increase for the same temperature increase (from the temperature trend).

  26. Congratulations!!!

  27. Congratulations to you both. Such useful applied research should be more readily funded.

  28. Congrats, the same as Jim; thank you for meaningful science that can actually be applied with measurable results and benefits.

    I would think the award has very little meaning compared to knowing that people’s lives have been made better for generations to come.

  29. Congratulations.

  30. Such a long effort wondering if it will pay off, the satisfaction when it does, and now the recognition it deserves. Well done Sir. And noting: “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.” Demonstrating the validity of the models must have been quite a nail-biting thrill.