The Growth of Hydrological Understanding: Technologies, Ideas, and Societal Needs Shape the Field

Murugesu Sivapalan, Günter Blöschl

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


Inspired by the work of Newton, Darwin, and Wegener, this paper tracks the drivers and dynamics that have shaped the growth of hydrological understanding over the last century. On the basis of an interpretation of this history, the paper then speculates about what kind of future is in store for hydrology and how we can better prepare for it. The historical narrative underpinning this analysis indicates that progress in hydrological understanding is brought about by changing societal needs and technological opportunities: new ideas are generated by hydrologists through addressing societal needs with the technologies of their time. We suggest that progress in hydrological understanding over the last century has expressed itself through repeated cycles of euphoria and disenchantment, which have served as stimuli for the progress. The progress, for it to happen, also needed inspirational leaders as well as a supportive scientific community that provided the backdrop to major advances in the field. The paper concludes that, in a similar way to how Newton, Darwin, and Wegener conducted their research, hydrology too can benefit from synthesis activities aimed at “connecting the dots.”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8137-8146
Number of pages10
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017



  • history of hydrology
  • hydrologic understanding
  • ideas
  • societal needs
  • technologies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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