Hydrologist Marc Muller receives NSF CAREER Award for new methods to inform response to climate change

Marc Muller, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Critical Aspects of Sustainability (CAS) CAREER award. CAREER awards are among the highest honors awarded to young faculty.

CAS awards provide support for research offering innovative solutions to climate change. Muller’s research links climate change and its societal impacts through sociohydrology — an interdisciplinary field studying the relationship between water and people.

Water scarcity can contribute to food shortages, migration, and conflict, particularly within the context of climate change. The problems demand integrated approaches, but studies evaluating the societal impacts of climate change have often focused on climate variables such as precipitation or temperature, rather than water resources. 

Muller’s project takes a more comprehensive approach—one that seeks to end the “disciplinary dissonance” between hydrology and social sciences. “Little data is available on the hydrology side of sociohydrology, but there is even less information on the ‘socio’ side—how humans use water and might react to changing water availability,” said Muller.

By developing theoretical, empirical, experimental, and educational tools that are informed by hydrology, Muller and his Laboratory for Coupled Human-Water Systems hope to better understand the societal impacts of climate change through water resources. Their project will create new statistical tools and models that can, even when data is incomplete, measure water resources more accurately and distinguish human-driven changes from changes caused by natural events.

As part of his NSF-funded project, Muller and his team will design a web-based game that simulates relationships between water users and changing water resources.

“One of the things I find most exciting about this project,” said Muller, “is the development of the computer-based simulation game. The game will seamlessly integrate the challenges of water decisions with the collection of research data on farmers’ responses to a changing climate.” The game will be used for high school and undergraduate education and support climate preparedness training for water and policy professionals. 

— Karla Cruise, College of Engineering