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Katul Elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Engineering
Tightly tying Duke’s environment and engineering schools together for three decades, Katul was recognized for his advances in eco-hydrology and environmental fluid mechanics
Gabriel “Gaby” Katul, the Theodore S. Coile Distinguished Professor of Hydrology and Micrometeorology in Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, has been named a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE)—among the highest professional distinctions for an engineer.
Katul was cited “for advances in eco-hydrology and environmental fluid mechanics,” which have helped understand transport phenomena in soil, plants and the atmosphere. The applications of these theories have helped engineers combat climate change-related trends in areas such as carbon dioxide sequestration by forests, heat mitigation in urban settings and losses in local biodiversity.
“We are incredibly proud to have received the news that Gaby was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. He is a leading authority in ecohydrology and has pushed the very bounds of knowledge in modeling how fluids move through our atmosphere, soils and plant systems,” said Jerome P. Lynch the Vinik Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering. “His intellectual contributions are monumental because they are foundational to helping scientists and engineers understand the impact a changing climate has on our habitats. We are also indebted to Gaby for his service as a bridge between Duke Engineering and the Nicholas School of the Environment, a partnership that is critical to Duke leading multidisciplinary solutions that address the adverse impacts of climate change.”
“Gaby’s pathbreaking research has influenced numerous fields of study over the past 30 years,” added Toddi Steelman, the Stanback Dean of Duke’s Nicolas School of the Environment, where Katul spent nearly three decades before moving schools to Duke Engineering. “We are very fortunate to have him call Duke his intellectual home and celebrate with him this important honor.”
“His intellectual contributions are monumental because they are foundational to helping scientists and engineers understand the impact a changing climate has on our habitats."
Dean jerome P. lynch | Pratt School of Engineering
Katul is part of the 2023 class of 106 new NAE members and 18 international members announced by the academy. His election increases the number of faculty members at Duke Engineering holding the distinction to 11.
“It is safe to state that science and engineering today are collaborative enterprises,” Katul said. “This recognition by the NAE is really about the process of community building to tackle complex societal problems that weld together distinct fields and lines of inquiry.”
Katul’s visionary research has focused on the physical processes that drive water and nutrient transport throughout the soil-plant-atmosphere system, especially how those processes depend on turbulent flows. His work stems from his ability to combine physical observations from disjointed fields into single, unifying mathematical theories describing the underlying processes at work.
A classic 2005 example of how his research can be applied to real-world problems is a model that predicts how wind-born seeds from trees are dispersed over long distances. The models have found important use not only in predicting how well plants will adapt and spread in the face of warming temperatures, but also by environmental stewards seeking to limit the spread of transgenic crops and invasive species.
“Gaby’s pathbreaking research has influenced numerous fields of study over the past 30 years. We are very fortunate to have him call Duke his intellectual home and celebrate with him this important honor.”
Dean toddi steelman | Nicholas School of the ENvironment
A more recent example of Katul’s research in action used innovative models to show how groundwater and irrigation practices might change over time to show that Nebraska might well have 10 times the groundwater-based grain production than Texas by 2050. Insights from such models can prepare states and nations for the changes in food production ability that lie ahead of them due to changes in climate. It also offers a mathematical framework that can use current and planned space-borne remote sensing platforms to identify early warning signals about occurrences of peak groundwater withdrawals followed by peak annual grain production.
In another more recent instance, his theories informed a model to help predict when forests are on the edge of large-scale die-offs due to prolonged droughts, up to 19 months before a critical tipping point is reached. Katul has also developed insights into the ways turbulent winds flow through both forests and cities. Findings from this work are necessary to support local governments seeking to mitigate the rising temperatures of climate change by planting more trees within their city limits.
“It is safe to state that science and engineering today are collaborative enterprises. This recognition by the NAE is really about the process of community building to tackle complex societal problems that weld together distinct fields and lines of inquiry.”
With his recent move into Duke Engineering, Katul plans to expand his portfolio by drawing on research into turbulent flows to develop a fundamental mathematical understanding of disastrous failures in large, complex systems ranging from cavitation spread in plant vessels, to material failure, to entire societies.
He has published more than 450 peer-reviewed manuscripts with cumulative citations exceeding 42,500 with H-index of 97, in Google Scholar. Among cited authors in Google Scholar, Katul is ranked 2nd in micrometeorology, 7th in atmospheric sciences, 9th in turbulence and 12th in hydrology. His previous recognitions include the Macelwane medal and induction as a Fellow of the AGU, the Hydrologic Science Award from the AGU, the Norbert Gerbier-Mumm International Award from the World Meteorological Organization, the Scientific and Technological Achievement Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Boussinesq Lecture for the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts, the John Dalton medal from the European Geosciences Union, and the Outstanding Achievement in Biometeorology award from the American Meteorological Society. He was also invited to present at a Pontifical Academy of Sciences workshop on water and the environment.
As a member of NAE, Katul will help the academy carry out its mission to provide engineering leadership in service to the nation. With 2,750 peer-elected members and international members, the academy serves as an advisor to the United States government and conducts independent studies examining important engineering and technology topics.
Duke Engineering Members of the National Academy of Engineering
- Ana Barros (CEE, emeritus)
- Robert Calderbank (ECE/CS)
- Ingrid Daubechies (Math/ECE)
- Earl H. Dowell (MEMS)
- Kenneth C. Hall (MEMS)
- Gabriel G. Katul (CEE)
- Henry Petroski (CEE, emeritus)
- Guillermo Sapiro (ECE)
- Vahid Tarokh (ECE)
- Mark Wiesner (CEE)
- Blake Wilson (BME/ECE)
See pictures, read citations and more at pratt.duke.edu/nae »