World-leading U.S. water scientist recruited to U of S Canada 150 Research Chair

SASKATOON – The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) has recruited NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti as Canada 150 Research Chair in Hydrology and Remote Sensing, building on the university’s excellence in water science and bringing top international talent to the country.

Famiglietti, based at the NASA lab at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, is one of 24 appointments announced today in Ottawa as part of the Canada 150 Research Chair program created in celebration of the country’s 150th anniversary to bring top-tier, internationally based researchers to Canada. A total of $7 million will be awarded for Famiglietti’s seven-year chair.

“The exciting work that Prof. Famiglietti will lead at the U of S will have impact around the world,” said U of S Vice-President of Research Karen Chad.“He and his research team will use satellite measurements and develop next-generation computer models and other new ways to track how freshwater availability is changing around the world. This work will have important implications, in an era of unprecedented climate change, for food and energy security, water policy, and trans-boundary water issues.”

Chad noted that Famiglietti’s work will build upon key strengths of the renowned U of S Global Institute for Water Security. Last year, the U of S was named by the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities as the top research institution in Canada and one of the top universities in the world in water resources.

In addition to the Canada 150 Chair position, Famiglietti will become executive director of the U of S Global Institute for Water Security, which has more than 70 faculty members, effective July 1. His appointment is part of the university’s contribution to the U of S-led Global Water Futures program, funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, which has more than 200 partners including 15 Canadian universities and is the world’s largest university-led freshwater research program.

Famiglietti, who served until October of 2016 as a professor of earth system science and civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Irvine, will also hold a joint faculty appointment between the U of S graduate school of environment and sustainability and the university’s department of geography and planning.   

“With a warming climate, changing extremes of flooding and drought, and increased food production demands, the world’s freshwater resources are under unprecedented levels of stress,” said Famiglietti.

“Without technological advances and new approaches to water management, I see a future in which we will be very challenged to produce the food that we need for this growing world population. I am excited to be joining the outstanding team at the U of S, which is helping to address this critically important global challenge.”  

A graduate of Princeton University, Famiglietti is widely considered to be the most important hydrologist of his generation working at large scales of observation with remote sensing technologies. He pioneered the use of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites to identify and quantify global groundwater depletion from the world’s major aquifers, work that has been cited around the world. He has been a leader in the modelling and measurement of water availability, storage, movement and transformations over scales ranging from centimetres to continents.

His work at the U of S is expected to shed light on how climate change affects human water use and management. Through the use of a wide range of remote sensing and computer modelling technologies including airborne sensors, satellite data assimilation, and high-performance computing, he will develop the simulation tools needed to explore science-based strategies for adapting to a changing climate.

His papers have been published in Science and Nature, and he is in the top one per cent for academic citations in the fields of geosciences and environment/ecology.

Famiglietti is committed to advancing the use of science in policy. A frequent advisor to national and international government officials on water issues, he has provided critical and understandable information for water policy in California and the U.S. federal government. For instance, he had major input into the first Sustainable Groundwater Management Act for the State of California enacted in 2014. His leadership in land surface hydrological modelling provided the impetus for the U.S.  National Water Model.

“Jay brings a wealth of scientific expertise and research experience that will help place Canada and the U of S in a position of prominence in global research and development of remote sensing hydrology,” said John Pomeroy, director of the U of S Global Water Futures program. “He will be a wonderful addition to our team and a great mentor for our students.”

Famiglietti is known as an excellent speaker and science communicator, able to share his findings and underscore the importance of water with diverse audiences. His research and commentary are often featured in the international news media, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles TimesThe Washington PostThe Guardian, and The Economist, and in network, cable and public television news. He has been a regular guest on National Public Radio, BBC Radio, and other public radio shows.

The Canada 150 program is an initiative of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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