Space management

Janis Leibold
Jan. 27, 1999

by Karen Wood
Admissions and New Student Enrollment

When Edwin Welles decided to apply his bachelor's degree in religious studies to a master's program in hydrology, he ran into a wall of politely discouraging responses from most of the schools he called. At the UA, Welles reached Soroosh Sorooshian, professor of hydrology and water resources, and suddenly his lack of prerequisites was no longer insurmountable. "He listened and said, 'I don't see why you can't get the background you need,'" recalled Welles. "Why don't you just come?" Welles came and earned a master's degree under Sorooshian's tutelage. Now a visiting scientist at the National Weather Service's Hydrologic Research Laboratory, he is considering returning to UA for a doctorate and a second opportunity to work with Sorooshian, who has recently acquired the title of Regents' Professor. "I can't imagine pursuing it anywhere else," he said.

In a program lauded internationally for its reputation, Sorooshian is a world-class act. "Even in a room filled with famous hydrologists from around the globe, Sorooshian always stands out," said former student Michael Winchell, now a hydrologist at the National Weather Service. Both Sorooshian and UA's program receive top billing from students and colleagues around the world. U.S. News & World Report rates UA's hydrogeology program-a subsection of hydrology-number one in the country. Sorooshian's professional reputation is on the same plane.

Sorooshian's oft-remarked upon personal magnetism is delightfully at odds with the scientist stereotype. "He is unique among scientists, very personable, charming and funny," said Welles. "To know him is to like him."

For his part, Sorooshian finds the UA a good setting for someone in his field. "Arizona is a good place to be a hydrologist," he said. "There are many challenges facing us. Any time you have a scarcity of a resource, you tend to pay more attention to it." Sorooshian's research is critical to the future of the increasingly thirsty Southwest. He studies surface hydrology, including flood forecasting, watershed management, and hydroclimate modeling-using data to predict climate change.

Sorooshian heads one of 27 teams involved in NASA's Earth Observation System (EOS)-that studies the complex interaction of the atmosphere, land and ocean. "We use remote sensing information to better capture the variability of water in the Southwest," said Sorooshian. Satellites are collecting a variety of data about the Earth's climate including vegetation cover, soil moisture, and changes due to droughts and floods. Eventually, scientists hope to understand-and predict-how both natural and man-made changes affect the environment.

In addition, Sorooshian will head an international team studying water management in semi-arid regions. His proposal was one of five funded by the National Science Foundation to create a $16 million science and technology center. Working with scientists from several other universities, government agencies and research centers, Sorooshian's team will study the sustainability of water resources in semi-arid regions. "It requires a good understanding of climate uncertainties, socioeconomic activities, demand, shifting patterns of use, and how various natural process work together," said Sorooshian. The program begins this fall and is expected to continue for at least 10 years.

Active in a number of hydrology associations, Sorooshian casts an international shadow. The publications section of his curriculum vitae is 12 pages long. "His research is cutting edge," said Lee Larson, former director of the National Weather Service's Hydrologic Research Laboratory. "He generally sets the tone and direction for current and future policy in hydrology and water resources. The National Weather Service depends on Dr.

Sorooshian to ensure that we are on the right track in our research."
This article first appeared in the University of Arizona Foundation Report.


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