Abbott, Mike B

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Mike Abbott

Mike Abbott


Michael Barry (Mike) Abbott 1931 (Barnett, UK) – 2019


Mike Abbott was born in Barnet, UK, in 1931. He studied civil engineering at the University of London, graduating in 1953. He then studied fluid dynamics, classical mechanics and computer programming at the University of Southampton (1957–58), followed by a diploma at the International Course in Hydraulic Engineering (IHE), in Delft (1958–59), and completing a PhD at Southamton in 1960. This was followed by his appointment as a NATO Fellow, at the University of Amsterdam (1963–64), and then by a lecturing post at the Technical University of Denmark (1964–66). In 1966 he returned to IHE (currently IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), where he progressed rapidly to become Professor in Computational Hydraulics and subsequently Hydroinformatics, and established highly successful Master and PhD programmes in Hydroinformatics. In 2001 he was appointed Emeritus Professor in Hydroinformatics and continued lecturing for many years, working closely with many of the existing staff at IHE Delft.

Mike, together with Roger Falconer, co-founded the Journal of Hydroinformatics, launched by IWA Publishing in 1999. His enthusiasm and efforts in developing the journal provided a forum and a key outlet for researchers and practitioners to publish the latest results and developments in Hydroinformatics. The journal continues to flourish to this day; providing an invaluable source of knowledge in the field and a legacy of the vision and inspiration provided by Mike Abbott. As an academic Mike Abbott wrote 7 classic textbooks relating to computational hydraulics and Hydroinformatics, with these books still widely read and cited today, and translated into many languages, including Chinese and Russian. He published over 100 seminal journal papers throughout his career. Many of his papers received prestigious awards, such as the IAHR best paper prize in 1979–80 and the ASCE Karl Emil Hilgard Hydraulics prize in 1988. Throughout his life in Europe Mike learnt and spoke 5 languages.

For many years Mike Abbott was a Council member of the International Association of Hydraulic Resarch (IAHR), a dedicated promoter of it, and, above all, was a much valued friend to so many members of the world-wide water communities, including IAHR, IWA and IAHS.

In 2003 Mike also co-founded the European Institute for Industrial Leadership (EIIL) in Brussels. Steven Price of EIIL writes: ‘Mike wrote ‘European Industrial Leadership’ providing EIIL with a curriculum and a value set for leadership, which was unrecognisable with those discussed in most business schools of the day and with some of these values only just starting to trend some 17 years later’.

Michael Abbott will be remembered as: an outstanding scholar, author, a brilliant lecturer, a visionary and influential intellectual, and a practitioner with an immense appreciation of multi-disciplinarity. However, above all, to those that knew him well and had the pleasure and honour of working closely with him, he will always be remembered as a true and immensely valued friend, always eager to help, and never mindful of spending his time for the benefit of others.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Michael Abbott was a visionary figure, educator, engineer, mathematician, thinker, and philosopher, co-creator of Computational Hydraulics, and creator of Hydroinformatics. He was always ahead of his time; his book on Computational Hydraulics in the early 1980s ushered in a new era of numerical modelling of free surface flow problems in hydraulic research and engineering as a result of his careful analysis of the numerical issues in the solution of the partial differential equations of practical hydraulics.

He almost single-handedly created the field of Hydroinformatics that has now become an everyday discipline within the water industry, with big data and computational modelling providing everyday tools to manage water systems in countries throughout the world. He inspired a generation of students, with his captivating teaching. Very many of those students today hold high positions in their country of birth, or new country of domicile.

In recent times he introduced water professionals to the spiritual dimensions of the water world and encouraged hydroinformaticians to reach out to manage water through a global vision, rather than consider water management on a regional or country-wide basis.

Not only was Mike Abbott an academic, but he was also an outstanding practitioner. In particular, Mike worked closely with the Danish Hydraulic Institute (now DHI Group) as a consultant for 30 years (1970–2000). During that period he designed and led the first 3rd generation simulation software tools for hydraulic and environmental applications, designed and constructed software for pipe-laying operations that became standard for Det Norske Veritas and, in particular, led the design, development and marketing of DHI's 4th generation modelling systems: Mouse, MIKE 11 and MIKE 21 based on the solution algorithms that Mike and colleagues had developed. The MIKE software tools, powered by DHI, form one of the most widely used set of software tools developed by water professionals to help tackle any water environmental challenges world-wide.

The best known hydrological model of the MIKE software tools is MIKE SHE (from Système Hydrologique Européen). The SHE Project was original funded by a European Community loan (not grant!) and involved DHI, the UK Institute of Hydrology (Robin Clarke and Enda O’Connell) and SOGREAH in Grenoble, France (Alexandre Preissmann and Jean Cunge). Mike Abbott should probably be considered the driving force behind the project, and it was under his supervision that DHI project managed the program. The project was initiated in 1977, but it was not until 1986 that the first major papers were published in the J. Hydrology. This was in part because of the numerical difficulties of coupling one-dimensional unsaturated zone solutions with a two-dimensional saturated zone (which caused all sorts of problems for the “Chef d’Orchestre” subroutines managing the time steps for the solution), but also because of the problem of the 3 institutions having 3 quite different Fortran 77 programming styles (that from SOGREAH still harking back to the limitations of the computers in their Mekong Modelling. Some of the numerical problems were later solved by either using a simple conceptual groundwater storage, or by implementing a fully 3D partially saturated solution.

At the end of the SHE partnership contract each of the partners was free to develop the model in their own way. DHI produced MIKE SHE that has been used around the world as a commercial product. It is to Mike Abbott’s credit that the EC loan was paid back in full. The Institute of Hydrology extended SHE to include solute and sediment transport in the form of SHETRAN when End O’Connell moved to the University of Newcastle. This has also been used widely in many countries.


Keith Beven: I first met Mike Abbott at the very first SHE meeting in 1977, actually some months before I joined IH to be part of the SHE team. I can vouch for the fact that he was an inspirational speaker, but I did get the idea that he thought that having solved the numerical problems of hydraulics, hydrology should be relatively easy (the main hillslope PDEs are parabolic after all). It did not really turn out that way, in part because of the decision to couple 1D unsaturated zone and 2D saturated zone solutions at the water table, and in part because of the inherent nonlinearities involved and boundary conditions that are really not well known.

Are that time Mike was working at both DHI and Delft Hydraulics which involved a lot of commuting by car. He had a particular penchant for Maserati cars.

We later clashed a little on how realistic it was to expect good results from distributed hydrological models with relatively coarse grids (see the discussion in the Distributed Hydrological Modelling book edited by Refsgaard and Abbott), and also about uncertainty in hydraulic models – despite his extensive readings and writings in post-modern philosophy, he could be rather deterministic at times. However, ever since my first meeting with him I had the greatest respect for his intelligence and research work.

Jeans Cunge: In early 1970s a number of consulting firms as well as universities wanted to write and use modelling software – it was fashionable and considered as trivial. Mike, the chairman of IAHR Committee was, like some others worrying about quality of results. And possible catastrophic loss of face for the whole domain. Indeed, the fight for contracts between engineering consultants had (and still has) no angelistic character. The result: numerical approaches, discretisation, representation of reality, convergence of numerics to correct solution etc. were kept secret and when applied by some were often dubious. It was a great menace to the new domain during the period of initial multiplication of studies and management systems using modelling software developed sometimes by amateurs. Mike took initiative which was kept discreet and aimed to ensure sane situation. He invited some 20 people active within the IAHR Committee to a private meeting at Shakespeare Hamlet town Elsinore in Denmark. These persons were chosen among modelling specialists from main European institutions (SOGREAH, DHI, EDF, Wallingford, Delft Hydraulics,…)and all have decisive weight in knowledge and development of modelling software in these places. But it was not enough: they were all intellectually open, they all thought that the domain of their activity can only gain in value if it is considered as a science and not some collection of industrial secrets. That it needed recognition as such within the <community. People like Alexandre Preissmann, Jean-Pierre Benqué, John Weare and others were asked to come but under conditions: the meeting was to be considered as private, no written papers were to be presented, no reports published, all participants would be ready to present to others all details of their software/concepts, tricks used in discretisation and modelling, all questions could be asked and all answers to questions were to be given without reticence. That is how Mike organised this meeting and it was an unheard initiative in the highly competitive world of consulting, and it was an event of great importance. Each participant of the meeting would then keep all others in high respect and esteem. Thanks to Mike’s initiative the research domain as well as industrial competition of the profession did not plunge into dishonesty and vile fights of the market. Walking in the evening along the site of Elsinore chateau he told me why he has chosen the place for this meeting; “Because our exchanges and discussions are to be or not to be for computational hydraulics”.

Reference Material[edit]

Mike Abbott Obituary in Journal of Hydroinformatics

Mike Abbott IAHR Obituary

Refsgaard, J. C, Storm, B. and Clausen, T., 2010. Système Hydrologique Europeén (SHE): review and perspectives after 30 years development in distributed physically-based hydrological modelling. Hydrology Research, 41(5), pp.355-377.

Refsgaard, J.C., Erlich, M. and Bathurst, J., 2022. Hydroinformatics Impact on Hydrological Modelling. In: Jonoski A (Ed.), Michael Abbott’s Hydroinformatics: Poisis of New Relationships with Water. Chapter 4, 45-56. IWA Publishing.

Selected Publications[edit]

The book Mike Abbott's Hydroinformatics, edited by A. Jonoski contains a selection of Mike Abbott's papers


Abbott, M.B., 1991. Hydroinformatics: information technology and the aquatic environment. Avebury Technical.

Abbott, M.B. and Price, W.A., 1993. Coastal, estuarial and harbour engineer's reference book. CRC Press.

Refsgaard, J.C. and Abbott, M.B., 1996. Distributed Hydrological Modelling, Springer

Abbott, M.B. and Minns, A.W., 2017. Computational hydraulics. Routledge.

Articles and Book Chapters[edit]

Abbott, M.B. and Ionescu, F., 1967. On the numerical computation of nearly horizontal flows. Journal of hydraulic research, 5(2), pp.97-117.

Abbott, M.B. and Rodenhuis, G.S., 1972. A numerical simulation of the undular hydraulic jump. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 10(3), pp.239-257.

Abbott, M.B., Damsgaard, A. and Rodenhuis, G.S., 1973. System 21,“Jupiter”(a design system for two-dimensional nearly-horizontal flows). Journal of Hydraulic Research, 11(1), pp.1-28.

Abbott, M.B., 1976. Computational hydraulics: A short pathology. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 14(4), pp.271-285.

Abbott, M.B. and Vlum, M.P., 1977. Computational hydraulics: an alternative view. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 15(2), pp.97-123.

Abbott, M.B., Petersen, H.M. and Skovgaard, O., 1978. On the numerical modelling of short waves in shallow water. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 16(3), pp.173-204.

Abbott MB, Clarke R, Preissmann A. Logistics and benefits of the European Hydrologic System. Logistics and Benefits of Using Mathematical Models of Hydrologic and Water Resource Systems. 1978 May:191.

Abbott, M.B., McCowan, A.D. and Warren, I.R., 1984. Accuracy of short-wave numerical models. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, 110(10), pp.1287-1301.

Abbott, M.B., Larsen, J. and Tao, J., 1985. Modelling circulations in depth-integrated flows Part 1: The accumulation of the evidence. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 23(4), pp.309-326.

Abbott, M.B. and Larsen, J., 1985. Modelling circulations in depth-integrated flows Part 2: A reconciliation. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 23(5), pp.397-420

Abbott, M.B., Bathurst, J.C., Cunge, J.A., O'Connell, P.E. and Rasmussen, J., 1986. An introduction to the European Hydrological System—Systeme Hydrologique Europeen,“SHE”, 1: History and philosophy of a physically-based, distributed modelling system. Journal of hydrology, 87(1-2), pp.45-59.

Abbott, M.B., Bathurst, J.C., Cunge, J.A., O'connell, P.E. and Rasmussen, J., 1986. An introduction to the European Hydrological System—Systeme Hydrologique Europeen,“SHE”, 2: Structure of a physically-based, distributed modelling system. Journal of hydrology, 87(1-2), pp.61-77.

Abbott, M.B., 1991. Contributions of computational hydraulics to the foundation of a computational hydrology. Recent Advances in the Modeling of Hydrologic Systems, pp.509-537.

Abbott, M.B., Havnø, K. and Lindberg, S., 1991. The fourth generation of numerical modelling in hydraulics. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 29(5), pp.581-600.

Abbott, M.B., 1992. The theory of the hydrologic model, or: the struggle for the soul of hydrology. In Advances in theoretical hydrology (pp. 237-254). Elsevier.

Abbott, M.B., 1993. The electronic encapsulation of knowledge in hydraulics, hydrology and water resources. Advances in water resources, 16(1), pp.21-39.

Abbott, M.B., 1994. Hydroinformatics: A Copernican revolution in hydraulics. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 32(S1), pp.3-13.

Babovic, V. and Abbott, M.B., 1997. The evolution of equations from hydraulic data Part II: Applications. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 35(3), pp.411-430.

Babovic, V. and Abbott, M.B., 1997. The evolution of equations from hydraulic data Part II: Applications. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 35(3), pp.411-430. Abbott, M.B., 1997. Range of tidal flow modeling. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, 123(4), pp.257-277.

Abbott, M.B., Babovic, V.M. and Cunge, J.A., 2001. Towards the hydraulics of the hydroinformatics era. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 39(4), pp.339-349.

Abbott, M.B. and Jonoski, A., 2001. The democratisation of decision-making processes in the water sector II. Journal of hydroinformatics, 3(1), pp.35-48.

Dibike, Y.B., Solomatine, D. and Abbott, M.B., 1999. On the encapsulation of numerical-hydraulic models in artificial neural network. Journal of Hydraulic research, 37(2), pp.147-161.

Dibike, Y.B., Minns, A.W. and Abbott, M.B., 1999. Applications of artificial neural networks to the generation of wave equations from hydraulic data. Journal of Hydraulic research, 37(1), pp.81-97.

Dibike, Y.B., Velickov, S., Solomatine, D. and Abbott, M.B., 2001. Model induction with support vector machines: introduction and applications. Journal of Computing in Civil Engineering, 15(3), pp.208-216.

Brenner, M., Hodell, D.A., Rosenmeier, M.F., Curtis, J.H., Binford, M.W. and Abbott, M.B., 2001. Abrupt climate change and pre-Columbian cultural collapse. In Interhemispheric climate linkages (pp. 87-103). Academic Press.

Abbott, M.B., 2002. On definitions. Journal of Hydroinformatics, 4(2), pp.i-xxvii.

Abbott, M.B. and Vojinovic, Z., 2009. Applications of numerical modelling in hydroinformatics. Journal of Hydroinformatics, 11(3-4), pp.308-319.

Abbott, M.B. and Vojinovic, Z., 2014. Towards a hydroinformatics praxis in the service of social justice. Journal of Hydroinformatics, 16(2), pp.516-530.


Michael Abbott's Hydroinformatics: Poiesis of New Relationships with Water Ed. by A.Jonoski, IWA Publications, 2022