2023-2024: Hydrology: Upmanu Lall

Upmanu Lall
Columbia University 


Dr. Upmanu Lall is the founding Director of the Columbia Water Center, the Alan and Carol Silberstein Professor of Engineering, and a Senior Research Scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate & Society at Columbia University. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.  He has received the Henry Darcy Award from the European Geophysical Union, and the Arid Lands Hydraulic Engineering, and the Ven Te Chow awards from the American Society of Civil Engineers, and presented the AGU Langbein and Borland lectures, among others.  Through the Columbia Water Center, he has led projects (in countries in all major continents) on water and climate sustainability, risk analysis and mitigation, infrastructure solutions, and the integration of financial instruments. His work ranges from basic research on hydroclimatology and data science to applied research on systems design and optimization, policy analysis and innovation, and financial strategies for climate risk mitigation. He conceived of and has been pursuing the “America’s Water Initiative” since 2014, and in this context has been developing research and advocacy towards comprehensive national water, energy, agriculture planning informed by climate, and decentralized, “solutions as the future direction for US and global water infrastructure. 

Abstract: The past, present and future of water in the Americas

Humans and other life forms have a very intimate dependence on water. As we mingle with and use water, we change where it is available, and its quality. There may be no waters on Earth that are unaffected by human activity. A changing climate accelerates the hydrological cycle, but the changing cycle is also a vehicle for transmitting man-made chemicals across the planet. When humans are threatened by floods or droughts, they call for interventions that could restrict or move where water ends up. It has been a story of humans dominating nature, only to discover time and again, that the changes in water have a payback. The history of the Americas is a story of the most recent human civilization, and I intend to trace it a bit as an observer detached, noting perhaps some of its connections with politics, economics and race, but primarily through a lens of technology and how it may lead us into a future that may or may not be different by virtue of artificial intelligence, but could surely use some human intelligence to navigate troubled waters.