A scientific “ambassador” beyond HEPEX – interview with Maria-Helena Ramos
Contributed by Ilias Pechlivanidis.
During summer 2018, I could easily spot a single HEPEX member for her persistent forecasts regarding the (potential) winner of the 2018 World Cup international football tournament. Unfortunately her favourite team did not succeed at the end, but Maria-Helena Ramos does not need a 100% hit rate in predicting a football winner to secure her place in the HEPEX ‘wall of fame’; this has already been earned by her long-term commitment to the community, her continuous support and strong enthusiasm, and her remarkable organisation skills to bring together our forecasting community.
At the HEPEX 2018 workshop in Melbourne, Maria-Helena stepped down from her role as HEPEX co-chair and, after the EGU 2018 GA in April, she ended her term as chair of the sub-division on Hydrological Forecasting. These decisions came because the international scientific community elected her for an important role as the EGU President for the Division on Hydrological Sciences (HS).
I took the opportunity to interview Maria-Helena and learn more about her scientific vision within and beyond hydrological forecasting.
Ilias Pechlivanidis (IP): Maria-Helena, you have been involved in HEPEX for more than a decade. What does the community mean to you and how would you like to see it develop?
Maria-Helena Ramos (MHR): My first contact with HEPEX was in 2005 when I started working with Jutta Thielen at the JRC in Ispra on the development of ensemble forecasting within the EFAS (European Flood Awareness System) system. It was the first time I was doing research on hydrological forecasting and everything was new to me: the ensemble approach, data assimilation, post-processing, the notion of statistical reliability, and all the concepts behind the verification scores borrowed from meteorology. I was learning a lot and, at the same time, gaining experience with the use of ensemble predictions in decision-making. At that time, we had major flood events in Europe in summer 2005 and spring 2016 and EFAS was being used to forecast critical situations in advance and send warnings to partners from affected countries.
The HEPEX community helped a lot to make easier this process of learning and developing my research. I was very lucky to have found a ‘young’ community that was strongly driven by listening and sharing, fellowship, inclusiveness and mutual support. So, for me, this community reflects how a lot can be achieved, from a professional and personal point of view, when we are motivated and focused on putting pieces together to advance science and operational forecasting.
Despite being almost 15 years old now, I do think HEPEX is still a ‘young’ community. Many topics are still emerging and need further research developments and more understanding of operational practices. As examples, I can think of ensemble nowcasting, probabilistic forecasting of the dynamics of space-time impacts of extreme events, social and (economic) sectorial response to uncertain forecasts, or global hydrological forecasting and impact response.
IP: You have been upgraded from leading a community of 450 members to leading the largest division at EGU with a wide scientific expertise. I believe that there are numerous challenges, yet what is the one single thing you would like to improve or tackle?
MHR: (smiles) To tell you the truth, I do not think about it as an ‘upgrade’. Both HEPEX and HS Division require very similar coordination skills and involvement. I even think that HEPEX, where people are closer to each other, might be even more demanding in terms of coordination as it is a smaller group and a very active community, with a successful blog portal running continuously since 2013 and several workshops organized at different places.
I see the move from co-chairing HEPEX from 2014 until 2018 to soon start the coordination of the HS Division at EGU as a continuation of my interest to contribute to promoting an inclusive, gender balanced, cultural diverse and welcoming environment in hydrology. I think we can all do great things if we feel we are respected and if we are at ease among colleagues to share our experience and points of view.
IP: Getting back to your favourite topic (this can only be ensemble hydrological forecasting), how would you expect the HEPEX community to contribute to EU’s three Os approach: Open Innovation, Open Science, and Open to the World?
MHR: HEPEX has all the ingredients for (and a lot of experience on) open collaborative and international research. It is one of a few, if not the unique, successful example of a long-lasting, totally volunteer-based community in hydrology, which has been continuously producing high-quality research and innovative solutions to current challenges related to water risk exposure and resource management. Maybe some aspects of open innovation in hydrological forecasting can be a little bit tricky because of national legal issues on flood alert or market competition within some climate-sensitive economic sectors, but I think we have succeeded in finding ways of sharing operational practices with a common aim towards enhancing state-of-the-art techniques for more accurate and reliable forecasts.
I guess in the future we can definitely do more towards opening hydrological forecasting to citizens. This may include enhancing citizen participation by stimulating curiosity (including learning at an early age), promoting educational and social activities around forecasting topics, collecting and incorporating citizen data in forecasting systems; well, in short, making citizens more engaged in the real-time forecasting process, especially in regions at high risk of flooding or water scarcity.
IP: Do you think SciArt in forecasting, as recently highlighted in one of your HEPEX blog posts, and the HEPEX games, to which you have largely contributed, could also be seen as tools to foster citizen engagement and contribute to effective training in hydrological ensemble forecasting?
MHR: Oh yes, definitely! These are also topics HEPEX could support and promote further in the next years.
IP: What is there for Maria-Helena after the position at EGU?
MHR: Well, who knows?! The future has many trajectories and we all know that updating can play a significant role in the final state. Let’s see what will come next. Now I’m focusing on the next couple of years, including the organization of the HEPEX workshop in France in 2020. I hope to see many of the enthusiastic HEPEX members gathering again for a great workshop!
Thank you, Maria-Helena, for this interview. On behalf of the HEPEX members and co-chairs we would like to thank you for your contribution and support during all these years. We hope that running the EGU Division on Hydrological Sciences will be a smooth and a great learning experience for you.