Upmanu Lall has broad interests in hydrology, climate dynamics, applied statistics, water resource systems analysis, risk management and sustainability. Challenging questions at the intersection of these fields, especially where they have relevance to societal outcomes or to the advancement of science towards innovative application motivate him. His current research covers 3 major initiatives that are developed through the Columbia Water Center.
The Global Water Sustainability Initiative is focused on an assessment of global water scarcity and risk, and innovations across scales – from farmer’s field to reservoir optimization to national policy modifications to international trade – to develop solutions to an impending global water crisis.
The Global Flood Initiative is focused on understanding and predicting the incidence of extreme floods around the world as it relates to the climate controls on large scale moisture transport; and on using this knowledge to design structural and financial instruments to mitigate these risks for societies and supply chains.
America’s Water is driven by the goal of developing sustainable water management and infrastructure design paradigms for the 21st century recognizing the linkages between urban functioning, food, water, energy and climate. It seeks to pull together a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing water infrastructure in the USA. These include: the financing of and investment in the replacement of aging infrastructure; pricing and allocating water given changing values and climate; the management of the total urban water cycle through new technologies and network topologies; groundwater depletion and national food and economic futures; and novel opportunities for flood risk management and non-point source pollution mitigation.
These programmatic initiatives are backed by research on systems level modeling of hydrology, climate, agronomy and economics. Lall has pioneered the application of techniques from (a) nonlinear dynamical systems, (b) nonparametric methods of function estimation and their application to spatio-temporal dynamical systems, (c) Hierarchical Bayesian models, and (d) systems optimization and simulation. He has been engaged in high level public and scientific discussion through the media, the World Economic Forum, and with governments, foundations, development banks, and corporations interested in sustainability. He has served on several national and international panels. He was one of the originators of the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, and is a past President of the Natural Hazards Focus Group of the American Geophysical Union.
Lall received a B.Tech in Civil Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur in 1976 and a PhD in Civil & Environmental Engineering from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1981. He is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union. In 2014, he received the European Geophysical Union’s Henry Darcy Medal; and in 2010 he received the ASCE Arid Lands Hydrology Research Award. In 2019 he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.