Terrestrial Water Cycle Seminar: Amilcare Porporato,

Dept of Civil and Env. Engineering, Duke University

Stochastic soil moisture dynamics: from Soil-Plant Biogeochemistry and land-atmosphere interactions to sustainable use of soil and water resources.

Amilcare Porporato
Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Duke University


The soil-plant-atmosphere system is characterized by a large number of interacting processes with high degree of unpredictability and nonlinearity. These elements of complexity, while making a full modeling effort extremely daunting, are also responsible for the emergence of characteristic behaviors. We model these processes by mean of minimalist models which describe the main deterministic components of the system and surrogate the high dimensional ones (i.e., hydroclimatic variability and rainfall in particular) with suitable stochastic terms. The solution of the stochastic soil water balance allows us to describe probabilistically several ecohydrological processes, including ecosystem response plant productivity as well as soil organic matter and nutrient cycling dynamics. We also discuss how such an approach can be extended to include land atmosphere feedbacks and related impact on convective precipitation. We conclude with a brief discussion of how these methods can be employed to address quantitatively the sustainable management of water and soil resources, including optimal irrigation and fertilization, phytoremediation, and soil salinization risk.

Short Biography:

Amilcare Porporato earned a Master Degree in Civil Engineering (summa cum laude) in 1992 from Polytechnic of Turin and his Ph.D. in 1996 from Polytechnic of Milan. He was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Hydraulics of the Polytechnic of Turin, and he moved to Duke University in 2003, where he is now Full Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with a secondary appointment with the Nicholas School of the Environment.

In June 1996, Porporato received the Arturo Parisatti International Price, awarded by the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere e Arti. He was Research Associate at the Texas A&M University (USA) in 1998 and Visiting Scholar at Princeton University (USA), Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, from 1999 to 2001. In 2008-2009 he was the first Landolt & Cie Visiting Chair in “Innovative Strategies for a sustainable Future” at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland. He was awarded the 2007 Professor Senol Utku’ award, the 2010 Earl Brown II Outstanding Civil Engineering Faculty Award, and in
2011 he received a Lagrange fellowship from the Polytechnic of Turin, the CRT bank and the ISI (Institute for Scientific Interchange). In 2012 he has been elected AGU fellow.

His main research interests regard nonlinear and stochastic dynamical systems, hydrometeorology and soil-atmosphere interaction, soil moisture and plant dynamics, soil biogeochemistry, and ecohydrology.

Porporato has been Editor of Water Resources Research (AGU) (2004-2009), and he is currently editor for Hydrological Processes. He is also member of the editorial board of Advances in Water Resources and the Hydrologic Science Journal. Among other things, he was chairman and convener of the Ecohydrology sessions of the AGU Spring Meeting in 2001 and 2002 and of the EGU in 2004-2006. Porporato has been part of the Italian research groups of Turbulence and Vorticity and of Climate, Soil and Vegetation Interaction, an adviser for real-time forecasting in the Piedmont Region (Italy), and ecohydrology (US National Academy).

Porporato's didactic experience comprises courses in Environmental Fluid Mechanics, Hydraulics, Hydraulic Constructions, Statistical and Physical Hydrology, Ecohydrology, Nonlinear Dynamics and Stochastic Processes. He has also been the didactic coordinator for the International School
"Hydroaid: Water for Development", co-organized by the Polytechnic of Turin and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Porporato is author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers, several publications presented at national and international conferences and invited talks. He is also co-author of the book "Ecohydrology of water controlled ecosystems" (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004) and the edited the book "Dryland Ecohydrology" (Springer, 2005).