While talking with some friends interested in deep aspects of the environmental impacts assessment, they asked me about ecohydrology and opportunities to specialize in that area. As a numerical modeller of groundwater flow I understand the need to evaluate relevant aspects of the soil cover and the root zone, of course these were concepts acquired in practice since I was not trained in this. I write this article to help people evaluate a Master programme, PhD. programme or any postgraduate study in ecohydrology based on my perspective of the conjunct understanding of vegetation processes and the water cycle.
Note: This article does not mention any program in particular; it also does not have the intention of giving rakings.
Terrestial Ecohydrology or Marine Ecohydrology
If Hemmingway, author of “The Old Man and the Sea”, would have wanted to specialize in ecohydrology, it would have sure been in marine ecohydrology. In my case, since I’m a continental groundwater modeller I’m more inclined towards terrestrial ecohydrology and the understanding of the water cycle processes with vegetation, more than with terrestrial and aquatic fauna. Defining the study scope is a first step to filter the Master programmes available.
I’m sad to admit that this article is based on terrestrial ecohydrology since I have a certain level of ignorance in coastal matters. This doesn’t decrease the importance of the study of marine ecohydrology.
The faculty determines the orientation of the Master
If a Master in Water Resources is given by a Humanities Faculty, it is for sure that the Master will be focused in management, identification of actors, governance, etc. If the water resources master is given by an Agricultural Engineering Faculty, it will be based in modelling, data treatment, software use and numerical methods.
Likewise, if the Master is administrated by a Biology or Forestry faculty, the programme will be focused on characterization of flora, identification of species, growing analysis and correlations with droughts; and the hydrological matters will be taught superficially, with some theory and basic software teaching.
Finally, if the Master is managed by a Civil or Agricultural Engineering faculty, it will be based on the water cycle, modelling, SIG, but the study of vegetation processes will be seen superficially.
The best way to have a full scope of Ecohydrology, is choosing a Master managed by two faculties: one in charge of the ecosystem subjects and the other one focused on water resources.
The subjects must be appropriately studied, but not deeply
Studying Ecohydrology is a commitment to understand three things: the ecosystem, the water cycle and their interaction. For this reason, a revision of theory and its basics must be done, but these subjects must not be studied deeply. We consider this due to the subjects/credits ratio of a Master. In three semesters of courses and one of thesis work, the time is not enough to understand the basics of both areas (1st semester), learn the software related to both areas (2nd semester) and study their interaction (3rd semester).
If we make a plan of everything that an Ecohydrology Master should comprise, all the theory should fit in a semester, or 20 credits.
Analyze the amount of software taught
When analysing something as complex and diverse as the environment we need to understand that its analysis can’t be done with Microsoft Excel. A Master in Ecohydroloy is a programme based in the use of modelling software with a strong component of Geographic information Systems, hydrological models and terrestrial modelling. As time goes by, the complexity of software increases and the documentation becomes more abstract. A decent level of use of programming languages is basic to interact hydrological models and environment models.
In the selection of an Ecohydrology programme, it’s important to analyse the amount of credits assigned to software subjects.
We congratulate you for your interest and hope that these keys are useful for your evaluation of the available options. We are sure that your academic traning, more than as an ecohydrologist, will be as a professional of a wide spectrum.
Saul Montoya Ph.D. Cand. M.Sc.