Hydrology: The interdisciplinary science of water

Richard M. Vogel, Upmanu Lall, Ximing Cai, Balaji Rajagopalan, Peter K. Weiskel, Richard P. Hooper, Nicholas C. Matalas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We live in a world where biophysical and social processes are tightly coupled. Hydrologic systems change in response to a variety of natural and human forces such as climate variability and change, water use and water infrastructure, and land cover change. In turn, changes in hydrologic systems impact socioeconomic, ecological, and climate systems at a number of scales, leading to a coevolution of these interlinked systems. The Harvard Water Program, Hydrosociology, Integrated Water Resources Management, Ecohydrology, Hydromorphology, and Sociohydrology were all introduced to provide distinct, interdisciplinary perspectives on water problems to address the contemporary dynamics of human interaction with the hydrosphere and the evolution of the Earth's hydrologic systems. Each of them addresses scientific, social, and engineering challenges related to how humans influence water systems and vice versa. There are now numerous examples in the literature of how holistic approaches can provide a structure and vision of the future of hydrology. We review selected examples, which taken together, describe the type of theoretical and applied integrated hydrologic analyses and associated curricular content required to address the societal issue of water resources sustainability. We describe a modern interdisciplinary science of hydrology needed to develop an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of the connectedness between human and natural systems and to determine effective solutions to resolve the complex water problems that the world faces today. Nearly, every theoretical hydrologic model introduced previously is in need of revision to accommodate how climate, land, vegetation, and socioeconomic factors interact, change, and evolve over time. Key Points: Human activity is inherently a part of the natural hydrologic system Water, climate, energy, food, society, and environment are intertwined Models must account for bidirectional coupling of human/hydrologic systems

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4409-4430
Number of pages22
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • coupled human and natural systems
  • integrated water resources management
  • sociohydrology
  • transdisciplinary
  • water resource systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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