Jasper Vrugt Awarded Donath Medal

Assistant ProfessorJasper A. Vrugt, Ph.D., Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with a joint appointment in Earth System Science, was awarded the Young Scientist Award, also known as the Donath Medal, by the Geological Society of America (GSA). With the Award, Vrugt will automatically be named Fellow of the Geological Society of America at the 2012 GSA Spring Council meeting.

Vrugt and his research group at The Henry Samueli School of Engineering develop computational methods that better analyze the discrepancies between model predictions and corresponding observations, and provide feedback to users about the errors in the model, input data (forcing/boundary conditions) and other variables such as model parameters. All this information serves as inspiration to further improve the theory of the functioning of environmental systems. Although much of this work initially appeared in soil physics and surface hydrology journals, in the past five years these methods have found widespread application and use in many other fields, ranging from groundwater hydrology to terrestrial hydrometeorology, ecology, atmospheric science, space physics and the prediction of bird migration routes.

The Donath Medal celebrates Vrugt’s contributions to hydrogeology. His algorithms and ideas have led to significant advances in groundwater model calibration and uncertainty quantification. His early papers on laboratory outflow experiments have explained why it is particularly difficult to estimate flow and transport parameters of hydrogeological models.  He was then among the first to use high-performance computing to investigate the soil-water-vegetation relationships using a fully integrated three-dimensional vadose zone flow and transport model. He also showed, for the first time, how explicit consideration of model structural inadequacies in tracer transport modeling significantly alters conclusions about optimal parameter values and prediction uncertainties. Finally, Vrugt was among a select few that introduced different model averaging methods in the groundwater literature. Altogether, the methods developed by Vrugt’s group are especially designed to increase information retrieval from experimental data, and further improve the predictability of complex hydrogeological systems, including an explicit treatment of all modeling uncertainties. 


Vrugt earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees (cum laude, 1999 and 2004, respectively) from the University of Amsterdam. In 2010, he received the James B. Macelwane Medal from the American Geophysical Union (AGU), was elected an AGU Fellow, and received the Outstanding Young Scientist Award from the European Geosciences Union (EGU) for his work on parameter and state estimation. He was named one of the Elsevier Top 50 Most Talented Young People from the Netherlands in 2009; received an Early Career Award in Soil Physics from the Soil Science Society of America in 2007; the Hydrology Prize 2004-2006 from the Dutch Hydrological Society in 2007; and a J. Robert Oppenheimer Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in 2006. He has published more than 60 papers in peer reviewed international journals and is associate editor of the journals Water Resources Research, Vadose Zone Journal, and Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. He is also on the Editorial Board of the journal Environmental Modelling & Software.

The Young Scientist Award was established in 1988 to recognize a young scientist (35 or younger) for outstanding achievement in contributing to geologic knowledge through original research that marks a major advance in the earth sciences. Established in 1888, The Geological Society of America provides access to elements that are essential to the professional growth of earth scientists at all levels of expertise and from all sectors: academic, government, business and industry.