Oct. 5, 2021

New Schulich professor recognized for contributions to meteorology

Alain Pietroniro hopes to inspire next generation of engineers and scientists
Alain Pietroniro was recently named Jim Bruce Citation of Excellence for Contributions in Meteorology from Environment and Climate Change Canada. Graphic by Nicole Laursen

“If you don’t like the weather in Alberta, wait five minutes — it will change.”

While that joke is always good for a laugh, Dr. Alain Pietroniro’s work centres on the seriousness of that unpredictability.

Pietroniro, PhD, has dedicated his career to researching our most precious resource — water — hoping to bridge the gap between meteorology and hydrology. This led him to receive the Jim Bruce Citation of Excellence for Contributions in Meteorology from Environment and Climate Change Canada earlier this summer.

Embracing the current

Pietroniro is an internationally recognized expert in hydrology and sustainable water systems, having spent nearly three decades studying water resources engineering. The former executive director of the National Hydrological Service within the Meteorological Service of Canada recently found a new home at the University of Calgary as a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering. He is also the Schulich Chair in Sustainable Water Systems in a Changing Climate the Schulich School of Engineering.

“Water resources are fundamental to everything we do,” he says. “Ecological systems, economic development, agriculture, mining — they are all reliant on robust and well-managed water resources.”

According to Pietroniro, climate change is challenging us on a number of fronts and society will need to adapt in a sustainable way.

To help determine what these adaptations may look like, he has been working for many years on Earth System modelling — the study of interactions of atmosphere, ocean, land, ice, and biosphere to estimate the state of regional and global climate change.

“That work will continue for the foreseeable future,” Pietroniro says. “We’re doing continental scale simulation of water resources, and we will move to local and global prediction systems in the future.”

Pietroniro is hoping to develop and test different models to diagnose the impacts and adaptation strategies for climate change, which could improve water management and forecasting.

Stoked for the future

While he has accomplished a lot over his career, including having more than 90 scientific journal papers published, Pietroniro was taken aback when he heard about being awarded the Jim Bruce Citation.

The award is given to a “team or individual at Environment and Climate Change Canada that made an outstanding contribution to the field of meteorology.”

“My first engineering hydrology textbook was written by Jim Bruce,” he says. “He was and continues to be a great inspiration to many, and has always cared deeply about water resources in Canada.”

The award also serves as a reminder to him about why he joined the University of Calgary in the first place:

My position here has inspired me to pass on my years of experience and train a whole new generation of engineers and scientists, who I know will do great things. I’m stoked about this new generation, as they have energy, they are informed, and they have access to information that no generation has ever had before them.

He also believes the University of Calgary is at the leading edge of research, innovation and technology in the field.

“I really like the energy and attitude here,” Pietroniro says. “The recognition of the importance of engineering sustainable systems, the strong faculty that has been hired over the years, the ability to attract good people to such a wonderful and world-class city all makes this desirable.”

Those who know him are also excited about the energy that Pietroniro is bringing to the classroom.

“This award is very prestigious and we’re so happy to have Alain be a part of the Schulich School of Engineering,” says Dr. Jocelyn Hayley, head of the Department of Civil Engineering. “His experience and expertise will be a great asset to our faculty and students.”