Hydrology and Climate research team


Climate change and population growth are great threats that join together in their impacts on hydrology and ecosystems. This crossroad has led to the rise of a new hydrological discipline, lying at the interface between conventional hydrology, ecology and climate science. This discipline is often referred to as climate hydrology , and it conceives hydrological systems as part of the Earth's global system, being impacted by anthropogenic emissions and land use change, but also regulating a number of land–atmosphere feedbacks that influence trends in climate and occurrence of hydro-meteorological extremes.

The work of the Hydrology and Climate team focuses on the study of climate hydrology, trying to understand how the hydrosphere, biosphere and climate interact, the extent to which these interactions reflect ongoing Earth's system changes, and the implications for current and future societies.


Hydrology and Climate research teamFrom left to right: Diego Miralles (team leader), Irina Petrova, Hendrik Wouters, Brecht Martens, Wouter Maes, Jeroen Claessen, Jessica Keune, Brianna Pagan and Dominik Schumacher. Not in the picture: Christopher Krich, Çağlar Küçük, Dominik Rains and Femke Smessaert.

Lines of research

  1. Climate remote sensing. Satellite observations are employed to monitor the long-term variability of the hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. This includes the retrieval and assimilation of multiple environmental variables, and their application in hydrological, climatic and meteorological studies. Examples include the development of evaporation (GLEAM), precipitation (MSWEP) and soil moisture (CCI) datasets. Moreover, there is a commitment towards providing  high-resolution operational evaporation and soil moisture data (ET–Sense project), leading the annual section of the State of the Climate report (BAMS) on evaporation, and implementing terrestrial evaporation as an ECV within GCOS.
  2. Ecohydrology. A central focus is the understanding of the hydro-climatic factors that determine the state of ecosystems. The emphasis concentrates on the impact of hydro-climatic extremes and long-term climate change on vegetation. To this end, process-based models, as well as mathematical tools – like machine-learning and causal inference methods – are applied to study ecosystem resistance and resilience. Several projects are run at the research unit in this direction, like the SAT-EX project, which explores spatial patterns in the sensitivity of vegetation to climate extremes, or the STR3S project, which explores the potential to derive plant transpiration and water stress from solar-induced fluorescence data.
  3. Land–atmosphere interactions. Satellite and in situ observations – in combination with heat and vapor transfer models, and regional climate models – are applied to investigate land–atmosphere feedbacks. The primary goal is to unravel the effect of land (e.g. vegetation, soil moisture) on the circulation of heat and moisture in the atmosphere, and ultimately on temperature, precipitation and radiation. The central focus is on hydro-meteorological extremes, like droughts and heatwaves. The potential of land cover change and management (e.g. afforestation) as climate mitigation strategies is also explored. Projects striving in this direction include the ERC DRY–2–DRY on drought self-intensification and self-propagation.