The 2022 Alfred Wegener Medal & Honorary Membership is awarded to Günter Blöschl for pioneering the field of regional process hydrology and advancing the understanding of hydrological change at the regional scale.
Günter Blöschl of the Vienna University of Technology, Austria, is awarded the Alfred Wegener Medal and Honorary Membership of the European Geosciences Union for “pioneering the field of regional process hydrology, and advancing the understanding of hydrological change at the regional scale”. Blöschl has devoted a lifetime developing and perfecting the diagnostic approach to exploiting spatial and temporal patterns of environmental variables to reveal how nature works, which has permitted him to connect hydrologic process descriptions across time and space, as a way to make change predictions regionally. The power of regional process hydrology that Blöschl pioneered lies in its ability to recognize process interactions, feedbacks and change that cannot be seen at smaller scales and represents a paradigm shift from the previous reductionist paradigm that relied on aggregating small-scale process descriptions. Blöschl’s foray into regional process hydrology had its origins in early work he did on snow patterns in the Alps and soil moisture patterns in Australia, which he extended to understand regional flood and drought mechanisms across Europe. In the case of floods, the novelty of this framework is that it enabled a process-based approach for linking flood changes not just to environmental drivers, but also to demographic changes and economic cycles, and representing these interactions by a system of coupled, non-linear dynamic equations. In particular, Blöschl used the regional process hydrology approach to demonstrate, for the first time, the climate change footprint on changes to the European flood regime. Regional process hydrology pioneered by Günter Blöschl has reinvigorated hydrology and Earth sciences by introducing deep process understanding to a field previously dominated by statistical methods. It has also had major societal impact. For example, Blöschl devised a new conceptual framework that combined flood data at local scales with causal information on flood processes and spatial patterns of flooding at the regional scale, which has been adopted internationally and implemented across Austria for flood risk management. Taken together, the excellence of these scientific advances and their scientific and broader impacts make Günter Blöschl an eminently worthy recipient of the Alfred Wegener Medal.