08 November 2021

In Memory of Eric F. Wood

It is with great sadness that IIASA marks the death of Eric F. Wood, who worked in the Water Project at IIASA from 1974-1976.

Eric F. Wood

Eric F. Wood

IIASA remembers Eric F. Wood as one of the greatest hydrologist in our time. He was well-known for his work in hydrology, remote sensing, climate, and meteorology.

This interview with Wood on “From systems analysis to remote sensing” occurred during one of his last visits to IIASA, when he received the European Geophysical Union’s Alfred Wegener Medal in Vienna, Austria.

He will be remembered by many IIASA colleagues. They share their memories below.

Eric Wood was a terrific researcher and teacher who made significant impacts in Canada, his birthplace, the U.S., and internationally. We first met at MIT, when he was a doctoral student and I was a new assistant professor, and we were friends for about 50 years. Eric was interested in improving the management of water resources and I was interested in making better policy decisions, so there was a natural professional overlap. We both accepted positions that began in 1974 with the newly created International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) located in Vienna, whose members were national academies of science in several of the more developed countries. It was at IIASA that we jointly did a project that solidified our personal relationship and friendship.

Managing significant water resources in each country affiliated with IIASA was important. Fortunately, Eric and I had the privilege of working with IIASA colleagues from Hungary, and with their colleagues in Hungary, on plans to better develop the water resources of the Tisza River in Hungary. In meetings with Hungarians experts on water resources, Eric and I developed a set of 12 objectives concerned with economic, environmental, social, and technical implications of those water resources. We then developed measures to indicate the degree to which each of those 12 objectives were achieved and assessed a multiple objective utility function over those 12 objectives, using judgments of professionals at a water resources institute in Hungary. Combining information gathered to describe the possible consequences of each of the five alternative development plans with the utility function provided the relative desirability of each of those alternative plans. The utility functions also allowed us to identify the necessary tradeoffs among those alternatives and their pros and cons. It was one of the first published studies that illustrated the use and usefulness of using multiple-objective utility functions for policy planning and evaluation processes. The article describing this work was published in the August 1977 issue of Water Resources Research and titled “An Illustrative Example of the Use of Multiattribute Utility Theory for Water Resources Planning.”

All aspects of working with Eric were interesting and pleasurable. It was the basis for the numerous meetings and discussions that we had over the next half century. Eric was a wonderful person and I will routinely think of him and always miss him.

- Ralph Keeney, Research Professor Emeritus, Duke University and IIASA alumnus

Eric was the great father to many hydrologists in our community. He was a thought leader who motivated our community to advance knowledge and develop community wide collaboration. He initiated various efforts, notably hyperresolution global land surface modeling: Meeting a grand challenge for monitoring Earth's terrestrial water in our hydrology community. Eric was always kind and supportive of young hydrologists. When I was working at NASA GISS in New York (several years ago), he invited me to Princeton a number of times and provided opportunities to co-supervise his PhD students and Postdoc, which was great learning for me and my career. He was always open to new ideas and listened. This led to my keynote seminar invited by Dr. Chris Milly at GFDL where I met Dr. Shukuro Manabe who received the Nobel Prize for Physics (2021). In 2016, Eric was very kind to invite me to his Symposium in Honor of Eric Wood: Observations and Modeling across Scales at Princeton University, where I gave a talk about human-water interface in hydrological modeling. This also gave opportunities to discuss with other leading hydrologists to advance hydrological modeling further. Eric always deeply cared IIASA and water activities, and he was a strong driving force to re-establish Water Program in 2013. Since I moved to IIASA (from NASA GISS) in 2016, I always met with Eric at AGU, EGU and any other hydrology related events, where Eric was keen to ask and support about IIASA and (re-established) Water Program. Eric was one of the greatest hydrologists in the history but he was very approachable, open and kind. Eric and his pioneering work will be remembered and we continue our work on the foundation of his legacy.

Yoshihide Wada, IIASA Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program Director

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Last edited: 01 December 2021


Monika Bauer

IIASA Network and Alumni Officer Communications and External Relations Department


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