VHP Scope

Walter B. Langbein (1907–1982)


Walter Langbein was dedicated to science that benefited the public good and was known as a versatile and talented hydrologist. Born in New Jersey in 1907, he obtained his civil engineering degree in 1931 from Cooper Union while attending night classes and working for a construction company. In 1935, he joined the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Albany, but within a year he was transferred to the national headquarters, where he served as a research engineer and senior scientist for the rest of his life.

Langbein’s contributions to the field of hydrology are extensive. His 1955 book, Floods, with W. G. Hoyt, was instrumental in the development of the National Flood Insurance Program. He developed methods in flood hydrology and the application of statistical methods to the analysis of hydrologic data. He studied evaporation from water bodies, varying from small stock ponds on the Navajo Reservation to Lake Mead. He studied infiltration in stream channels and its effect on flood wave passage. As early as 1944, Langbein was interested in the use of hydrologic data for the estimation of climate change. With Luna Leopold, he worked to establish a national program in water resources research, which led to the development of the Office of Water Resources Research within USGS. Langbein was instrumental in founding the International Hydrologic Decade (1965–1974), and his participation in the decade focused attention on the determination of the worth of hydrologic data for water resources development. The theory of scientific network design for water data networks evolved from his work.

Walter Langbein was awarded the William Bowie and Robert E. Horton Medals from the American Geophysical Union, the J. C. Stevens Award of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Distinguished Service Award of the Department of the Interior, and the Warren Prize of the National Academy of Sciences. He and Professor Korzun of the Soviet Union were named corecipients of the International Prize in Hydrology, awarded by the International Association of Hydrologic Sciences.

Langbein once remarked that one’s professional career is a race against obsolescence. As noted by others, any hydrologist would claim that Walter B. Langbein clearly won the race.


Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences, National Research Council, 1991, p. 44. [LINK]

Dooge, J.C.I. (1996), Walter Langbein and the emergence of scientific hydrology, Water Resour. Res., 32(10), 2969-2977. [PDF]

***Please send your suggestions, additions, and corrections to Efi Foufoula-Georgiou.*** 

List of Publications:

  1. Langbein, W. B. (1938), Some channel-storage studies and their application to the determination of infiltration, Eos Trans. AGU, 19(1), 435–447. [PDF]
  2. Hoyt, W. G., and W. B. Langbein (1939), Some general observations of physiographic and climatic influences on floods, Eos Trans. AGU, 20(2), 166–174. [PDF]
  3. Langbein, W. B. (1940), Channel-storage and unit hydrograph studies, Eos Trans. AGU, 21(2), 620–627. [PDF]
  4. Langbein, W. B. (1942), Monthly evapo-transpiration losses from natural drainage-basins, Eos Trans. AGU, 23(2), 604–614. [PDF]
  5. Langbein, W. B. (1942), Hydraulic criteria for sand-waves, Eos Trans. AGU, 23(2), 615–618. [PDF]
  6. Hoyt, W. G., and W. B. Langbein (1944), The yield of streams as a measure of climatic fluctuations, Geogr. Rev., 34(2), 218–234. [LINK]
  7. Langbein, W. B., and others (1947), Topographic characteristics of drainage basins, in Contributions to the Hydrology of the United States, 1944, U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Pap., 968C, 125–157. [PDF]
  8. McDonald, C. C., and W. B. Langbein (1948), Trends in runoff in the Pacific Northwest, Eos Trans. AGU, 29(3), 387–397. [PDF]
  9. Langbein, W. B. (1949), Computing soil temperatures, Eos Trans. AGU, 30(4), 543–547. [PDF]
  10. Langbein, W. B. (1949), Annual floods and the partial-duration flood series, Eos Trans. AGU, 30(6), 879–881. [PDF]
  11. Langbein, W. B. (1949), Municipal water use in the United States, J. Am. Water Works Ass., 41, 997–1001.
  12. Langbein, W. B., and others (1949), Annual runoff in the United States, U.S. Geol. Surv. Circ., 52, 14 pp. [PDF]
  13. Langbein, W. B. (1950), Safe reservoir yield-long-term changes, J. Am. Water Works Ass., 42, 604–814.
  14. Langbein, W. B. (1953), Flood insurance, Land Econ., 29(4), 323–330.
  15. Langbein, W. B. (1954), Stream gaging networks, paper presented at the 10th General Assembly, Int. Assoc. of Sci. Hydrol., Rome.
  16. Langbein, W. B. (1954), How long should gaging stations be operated?, paper presented at the Western Snow Survey Conference.
  17. Langbein, W. B. (1955), Extending flood-frequency graphs by comparison with rainfall, U.S. Geol. Surv. Open File Rep., 19 pp. [PDF]
  18. Langbein, W. B. (1958), Queuing theory and water storage, Proc. Am. Soc. Civ. Eng., 84(HY 5), pap. 1811.
  19. Langbein, W. B. (1958), Divining rods versus hydrologic data and research, Proc. Am. Soc. Civ. Eng., 84(HY 5), pap. 1809.
  20. Langbein, W. B., and S. A. Schumm (1958), Yield of sediment in relation to mean annual precipitation, Eos Trans. AGU, 39(6), 1076–1084. [PDF]
  21. Langbein, W. B. (1959), Water yield and reservoir storage in the United States, U.S. Geol. Surv. Circ., 409, 5 pp. [PDF]
  22. Langbein, W. B., and W. G. Hoyt (1959), Water Facts for the Nation's Future, Ronald, New York.
  23. Leopold, L. B., and W. B. Langbein (1960), A Primer on Water, U.S. Geol. Surv., Washington, DC. [PDF]
  24. Langbein, W. B. (1961), Salinity and hydrology of closed lakes, U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap., 412, 20 pp.
  25. Leopold, L. B., and W. B. Langbein (1962), The concept of entropy in landscape evolution, U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap., 500-A, 20 pp. [PDF]
  26. Matalas, N. C., and W. B. Langbein (1962), Information content of the mean, J. Geophys. Res., 67(9), 34413448, doi:10.1029/JZ067i009p03441. [PDF]
  27. Langbein, W. B. (1963), The hydraulic geometry of a shallow estuary, Bull. Int. Assoc. Sci. Hydrol., 8(3), 84–94.[LINK]
  28. Leopold, L. B., and W. B. Langbein (1963), Association and indeterminacy in geomorphology, in The Fabric of Geology, pp. 184–192, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA.[LINK]
  29. Langbein, W. B. (1964), Hydrologic tools in palaeo-ecological reconstruction, in The Reconstruction of Past Environments, Publ. 3, pp. 37–39, Fort Burgwin Research Center, Taos, NM.
  30. Langbein, W. B. (1964), Profiles of rivers of uniform discharge, U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap., 501-B, B119–B122.
  31. Langbein, W. B. (1964), Geometry of river channels, J. Hydraul. Div. Am. Soc. Civ. Eng., 90(HY 2), 301–312.
  32. Langbein, W. B., and D. R. Dawdy (1964), Occurrence of dissolved solids in surface waters, U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap., 501-D, D115–D117. [PDF]
  33. Langbein, W. B., and L. B. Leopold (1964), Quasi-equilibrium states in channel morphology, Am. J. Sci., 262, 782–794.[LINK]
  34. Langbein, W. B. (1965), Geometry of river channels (Closure), J. Hydraul. Div. Am. Soc. of Civ. Eng., 91(HY 3), 297–313.
  35. Langbein, W. B. (1965), National networks of hydrological data, in Symposium on Design of Hydrological Networks, IAHS Publ., 67, 5–11.[LINK]
  36. Langbein, W. B. (1966), A random-walk model of hydraulic friction, Bull. Int. Assoc. Sci. Hydrol., 11(2), 5–9.[LINK]
  37. Langbein, W. B., and L. B. Leopold (1966), River meanders—Theory of minimum variance, U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap., 422-H, H1-H15. [PDF]
  38. Scheidegger, A. E., and W. B. Langbein (1966), Probability concepts in geomorphology, U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap., 500-C, C1-C14. [PDF]
  39. Scheidegger, A. E., and W. B. Langbein (1966), Steady state in the stochastic theory of longitudinal river profile development, Bull. Int. Assoc. Sci. Hydrol., 11(3), 43–49.[LINK]
  40. Langbein, W. B., and W. H. Durum (1967), The aeration capacity of streams, U.S. Geol. Surv. Circ., 542, 6 pp. [PDF]
  41. Langbein, W. B. (1968), Groundwater—A dependable resource, Ground Water Age, 2(12), 12–13.
  42. Langbein, W. B., and L. B. Leopold (1968), River channel bars and dunes—Theory of kinematic waves, U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap., 422-L, L1–L20. [PDF]
  43. Langbein, W. B. (1972) Casebook on Hydrological Network Design Practices, 600 pp., World Meteorol. Organ., Geneva.
  44. Langbein, W. B. (1972), Water data today and in prospect, Hydrol. Sci. Bull., 17(4), 369–385.[LINK]
  45. Langbein, W. B., and G. E. Harbeck Jr. (1974), A note on costs of collecting hydrometric flow data in the United States, Hydrol. Sci. Bull., 19(2), 227–229.[LINK]
  46. Langbein, W. B. (1976), Hydrology and environmental aspects of Erie Canal (1817–99), U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Pap., 2038, 92 pp. [PDF]
  47. Matalas, N. C., and W. B. Langbein (1976), Models and data, in Mathematical Models in Geophysics, IAHS Publ., 116, 121–126.[LINK]
  48. Langbein, W. B. (1979), Overview of conference on hydrologic data networks, Water Resour. Res., 15(6),1867–1871. [PDF]
  49. Edelen, G. W., G. E. Ferguson, and W. B. Langbein (1979), Flood studies led to national flood insurance, Civ. Eng., 49(2), 89–91.
  50. Langbein, W. B. (1981), A history of research in the USGS/WRD, WRD Bull., pp. 18–27, Water Resour. Div. U.S. Geol. Surv., Reston, VA.


  1. Hoyt, W. G., and W. B. Langbein (1955), Floods, 469 pp., Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ.