Dr. Peter J. Webster (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA).
Dr. Webster has applied his extensive work on ocean-atmosphere interactions and their effects on monsoon strength to provide one-to-two-week lead time forecasts of monsoonal floods that often provoke catastrophic inundations in highly populated coastal regions.
He took the global model of the European Centre for Medium Range Forecasting (ECMWF) for predicting the monsoon’s active and break cycles and used it to developed a method for forecasting upcoming dry and wet spells based on the statistical analysis of the ECMWF output. He combined the ECMWF weather forecasts with a river runoff model to forecast river flow as well as the inundation following the flood “front”. In this way, he was able to predict, with remarkable accuracy, the floods that have devastated Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, and India in the past several years.
He then went on to lead the development of the Climate Forecast Applications in Bangladesh Project (CFAB), where he developed and implemented a probabilistic rainfall and river discharge forecast system for the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers. This forecast system was 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 country’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre. He has also applied these models to the Indus River.
Dr. Peter J. Webster is Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology. He is also a consultant with the World Bank and Chief Scientist of the Climate Forecast Applications Network.
• Ph.D. 1972; Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
• B.Sc. 1964; Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia.
2015: International Award: American Geophysical Union
2015: 116th Sir Edmund Halley Lecturer June, Oxford University UK
2012: Mason Gold Medal: Royal Meteorological Society
2010: No 47: Discover Magazine Top 100 Science Stories 2009
2007: Outstanding Faculty Research Author Award: Georgia Tech
2006: Best Faculty Paper Award: Georgia Institute of Technology
2006: No 1: Discover Magazine Top 100 Science Stories 2005
2004: Carl Gustav Rossby Research Gold Medal: American Meteorological Society
2003: Adrian Gill Medal: Royal Meteorological Society
1999: Special Creativity Award: National Science Foundation
1995: Special Achievement Award: American Meteorological Society
1990: Jule G. Charney Award: American Meteorological Society
1990: Special Creativity Award: National Science Foundation
1990: Senior Humboldt Research Award: Humboldt Foundation
1989: The Wilson Research Award: Pennsylvania State University
Dear 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. The award came as a great surprise and I would like to thank Georgia Institute of Technology for my nomination and the International Panel for choosing me.
I think that it important to acknowledge the man for whom the prize is named. 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 in the vast agrarian societies in the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Indus river basins, each of which is subject to periods of widespread and long-lived flooding. 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. For example, in India alone, an average 6 million ha of land is inundated each year, affecting 35–40 million people. Because flooding occurs in the fertile flood plains of major rivers, the loss in agricultural inputs (seed, fertilizer, and pesticides) alone costs in excess of 1 billion U.S. dollars in an average flood or drought event. Smallholders nearly always purchase these agricultural inputs on credit against repayment after the expected harvest. 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 of forecasting floods that would allow societies to prepare and mitigate potential damage. Given my background a fluid dynamicist, my team and I 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. The model 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). Villages that used the forecast made savings that were close to what they made per year.
The backbone of the hydrological model is the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts that generates terabytes of data per day. These data are not accessible (or digestible) to many of the vulnerable societies around the world. But if these data could be separated into digestible streams then a relatively small nation could use our hydrological models themselves. Our model successfully forecast (in hindcast mode) the Pakistan floods of 2010, 2011 and 2012. If Pakistan had ECMWF data available, they could have forecast these devastating floods themselves using our methodology as any small nation could do. This is a relatively cheap endeavor and would offer the building of resilience and the attainment sustainability for the poor of the world and allow them to anticipate risk and take action and chart their own destiny.
Finally, I would like to thank members of my research group, especially Drs. Jun Jian, Thomas Hopson and Carlos Hoyos, who have made these endeavors possible. I especially appreciate the continual support of Tom Brennan (USAID), Sri A. Subbiah (Director of RIMES) and Prof. Judith A. Curry (Georgia Tech).
Thank you once again.
Peter J. Webster
1. Peter J, Webster, V. E. Toma, and H.‐M. Kim. "Were the 2010 Pakistan floods predictable?" Geophysical Research Letters, 38 (2011).
2: Peter J. Webster and Jun Jian. "Environmental prediction, risk assessment and extreme event: adaptation strategies for the developing world" Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A., 369 (2011), pp. 1-30.
3. Kristofer Y. Shrestha, Peter J. Webster, and Violeta E. Toma, "An Atmospheric–Hydrologic Forecasting Scheme for the Indus River Basin" Journal of Hydrometeorology, 15:2 (2014), pp. 861-890.
4. Ernesto Sanchez-Triana, Santiago Enriquez, Bjorn Larsen, Peter Webster, and Javaid Afzal, "Sustainability and Poverty Alleviation Confronting Environmental Threats in Sindh, Pakistan" Directions in Development, Environment and Sustainable Development Report, World Bank (2015).
5. Peter J. Webster. "Improve weather forecasts for the developing world" Nature, 493, (2013), pp. 17-19.
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