The 2020 John Dalton Medal is awarded to Amilcare Porporato for seminal contributions to the field of ecohydrology and for developing new theories for the analysis of soil-plant-atmosphere systems across scales.
Amilcare Poporato has advanced our understanding of the functioning of the soil-plant-atmosphere system by developing new formal theoretical and analytical methods that capture much of the complexity of the interactions between hydrological drivers and ecosystems.
Early in his career, Porporato investigated the concepts of deterministic chaos and pioneered the development of univariate and multivariate nonlinear methods to analyse time series of river flows, precipitation and temperature and to predict flow dynamics over time.
Later, Porporato’s research focussed on the dynamics of surface soil moisture under varying climatic forcing conditions. This led to the development of a mathematical framework to model the complex interactions and feedbacks between soil, climate and vegetation, and the formulation of the concepts of static and dynamic water stress. These research activities were crucial contributions to the then-emerging discipline of ecohydrology, the science that studies the mutual interaction between the hydrological cycle and ecosystems, where soil moisture is a key link between climate fluctuations and the spatial and temporal patterns of vegetation.
Porporato spearheaded the development of this new field, leading to an intensification of the interaction between both disciplines and the initiation of novel paradigms and concepts in the soil-plant-atmosphere system. He proposed a model for the unified representation of the evolution of carbon and nitrogen in the soil, where the influence of rainfall, vegetation and soil characteristics could be directly incorporated through soil-moisture dynamics. This work on linking soil-moisture dynamics to the physiological processes of plants expanded the earlier theoretical framework for soil-plant-atmosphere interactions and led to additional research contributions on the response of soil microbial communities to water stress and the hydraulic limits of plant transpiration.
Porporato is a pioneering scientist and an outstanding teacher, advisor and mentor of students and postdoctoral fellows. He has demonstrated leadership in advancing the hydrological sciences and proposing creative approaches across disciplines that are relevant for water and ecosystem management and by contributing to international hydrological, ecological and geosciences research communities and organisations.