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Dara Entekhabi named recipient of the 2015 Hydrologic Sciences Award

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Dara Entekhabi
Dara Entekhabi
Photo: Len Rubenstein/MIT Spectrum

MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Professor Dara Entekhabi has been selected by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) to receive the 2015 Hydrologic Sciences Award. His contributions to the hydrological community — credited as ranging from theoretical and data analyses to the supervision and execution of a decade-long NASA satellite mission — played a significant role in solidifying his spot as the recipient of this award.

Entekhabi is widely regarded as a leader in the deeper exploration of the Earth’s soil moisture and the intricate processes that occur at the land-atmosphere boundary. His research focuses in the disciplines of hydrology, meteorology, and Earth remote sensing, with a specialized interest in the interactions between the land and atmosphere, as well as their role in hydrology and meteorology.

“I was fortunate to enter this field at a revolutionary time,” said Entekhabi, in a press release from the AGU. “Hydrology as a geoscience marked a milestone the year I started as a young faculty.” He also goes on to say “[The award] is a collective gratitude since the cited efforts all result from collaboration with colleagues and students. I stand as a proxy for them.”

Entekhabi is the science team leader of NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Jan. 31. The mission instruments and operations are optimized to produce accurate maps of surface soil moisture and take routine measurements in the topsoil of Earth’s surface — all with the purpose of creating more precise predictions of weather and climate. Spearheaded by Entekhabi and a NASA team in late 1999, SMAP provides hydrologists and meteorologists with a resource to predict severe weather hazards such as heavy precipitation, floods, droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires.

According to the AGU, CEE professor and AGU fellow Dennis McLaughlin says the SMAP mission would not have taken place without Entekhabi’s involvement. “Dara’s tireless work and substantial accomplishments with SMAP over the last several years really deserved to be acknowledged,” he continued.

The latest SMAP science results were released on Sept. 10 and have global coverage. There was also an airborne validation field experiment in southern Arizona from Aug. 2-18.

“The exploration of Earth processes from space is a frontier in environmental science and engineering, and Dara’s work breaks new ground to understand our planet’s moisture dynamics,” said CEE department head Markus Buehler. “One particular significance is the importance for ecosystems and agriculture, and the information gained from the SMAP mission may be critical for food security.”

Established in 1956, the Hyrdologic Sciences Award is in recognition for outstanding contributions to the science of hydrology over a career, with a particular emphasis on the past five years. Past recipients include CEE professors emeritus Rafael Bras and Peter Eagleson.

The award will be presented to Entekhabi at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting from Dec. 14-18 in San Francisco, California.

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