Adamson, Peter T

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Peter Thomas Adamson 1946 (Liverpool, UK) – 2020


Peter graduated in 1969 with a BSc in Earth Sciences from the University of Newcastle. This was followed by an MSc in Water Resources (1973) and a PhD in Hydrological Modelling from the University of Stellenbosch (Republic of South Africa) in1984.

From 1973 until 1989 Peter worked for the South African Department of Water Affairs and in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Natal, Durban. He made significant contributions to regional water resources studies, including methodological advances in the fields of applied hydrology, reservoir planning and operational simulation and the statistical estimation of flood and drought risk.

In 1989 Peter joined Halcrow, a firm of international consulting engineers and planners. He quickly earned a reputation as an innovative hydrologist with a sharp intellect and a keen interest in travelling.

Peter recognised that well analysed data is crucial to good water resources planning and engineering design. As a Fellow of the Royal Society of Statistics, he was keen to apply innovative statistical techniques to the analysis of data on rainfall and river flows. He developed a suite of innovative hydrological analysis and modelling methods; which, he used to say, could be used to “interrogate the data until it confesses!” His dry humour and wit produced memorable one-liners, which we remember as much as his technical excellence.

During his time at Halcrow, Peter worked in a variety of countries on a range of water projects, introducing new ideas on many, including:

• Water resource strategies for England and Wales; • Water resources and irrigation planning projects in the Lower Mekong River Basin, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mexico, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and Venezuela; and • Flood control and drainage projects in Argentina, Malaysia and the UK Peter was always ready to share insight with colleagues, mentor junior staff and supervise Masters (MSc) students. Peter was an Honorary Visiting Research Fellow at the Department of Applied Mathematics, Statistics and Engineering Mathematics at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

A report from Peter was always worth reading, even though at times getting him to actually complete a piece of work could present a challenge. As he delved into a subject, his huge intellect took him off down different pathways of exploration, from which it was not always easy to extract him!

Peter retired from professional work in 2016. Colleagues remember him warmly for his sharp mind, his pithy anecdotes and his inimitable sense of humour. He was his own man, often ready to challenge orthodoxy. His breadth of interests extended well beyond water resources into history, geography and the arts. He was a keen collector of works of art, selected with care and very good taste, from many of the countries that he visited. His passing away leaves the world a smaller poorer place!

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Peter found time to undertake applied research in hydrology and water resources and to contribute papers to international scientific journals. Peter was a joint author of the “Floods and Reservoir Safety - the ICE Guide” published (in 1995) by the Institution of Civil Engineers in London.

Peter first worked on the hydrology of the Mekong River in 2001, as part of a Halcrow team setting up a mathematical model of the entire lower river basin. From then on, he was frequently called upon by consultancy firms and by the Mekong River Commission to undertake further studies of this major river basin that is 12th largest in the world and home to more than 60 million people.

Over the next 12 or more years, Peter soon became the “go-to” person to better understand the behaviour of the river, looking back through nearly a century of records and into the future with climate change. Known for his disciplined, thorough, approach, Peter made a massive contribution to the body of knowledge that was shared with the riparian countries.

Peter was much liked and respected by his many friends and colleagues in Laos and throughout the region by whom he will be greatly missed.


Peter had a love of travelling and his frequent trips abroad for work resulted in acquaintances at his local pub in Pewsey, Wiltshire (where Peter had a flat) referring to him as the “Marco Polo of Pewsey”!

Reference Material[edit]

Biography compiled by Peter von Lany, Tim Turner, Malcolm Wallace and Tony Green

Selected Publications[edit]


Adamson / Mekong River Commission (2005) ‘An Overview of the Hydrology of the Mekong River Basin’ ISSN 1728 3248. MRC. Vientiane. Lao PDR . 73 pp.

Adamson P.T and J. L. Beaver (1995) “Floods and Reservoir Safety – the ICE Guidelines”. Published by the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) / Thomas Telford. London. 77 pp.

Journal and International Conference Publications[edit]

Webby, R.B., Adamson, P.T., Boland, J., Howlett, P.G., Metcalfe, A.V. & J. Piantadosi, (2006): “The Mekong – applications of the Conditional Value-at-Risk financial model to the environmental benefits, costs and consequences of water resources development in a large river basin”. Journal of Ecological Modelling (in press).

Cigizoglu H.K, Adamson P.T, and A.V. Metcalfe : (2002): “ Bivariate Statistical Modelling of Ephemeral Streamflows.”. Hydrological Processes. Vol 16. pp 1451 – 1461.

Adamson P T : (2001): “Perspectives on the Lower Mekong - The Potential Downstream Hydrological Impacts of the Yunnan Hydropower Cascade”. International Water Power and Dam Construction. March. pp 16 - 21

Cigizoglu H.K, Adamson P.T, Lambert M.F. and A.V. Metcalfe : (2001): “Hidden State Markov Chain Time Series Models for Arid Zone Hydrology”. In Proceedings: International Symposium on Water Resources and Environmental Impact Assessment. pp 367 – 376. Edited by Z Sen, F Karaosmanoglu and S Sirdas. Istanbul Technical University. Turkey .

Adamson P T, Metcalfe A V and B Parmentier: (1999) ‘Bivariate Extreme Value Distributions: An Application of the Gibbs Sampler to the Analysis of Floods.’ Water Resources Research. Vol 39 (9) pp 2825 – 2832. Sept

Papanikos I A, Adamson P T: Metcalfe A V and P E O’Connell (1998): ‘Stochastic Multisite Timeseries Models of Ephemeral Streamflow.’ In ‘Hydrology in a Changing Environment.’ Volume 2. pp 343 – 350. Wheater & Kirby. (eds). Wiley. UK..

Adamson P T and Shah M: (1996) 'Stochastic Models of Daily Rainfall - Applications in Baluchistan', Paper presented XVI General Assembly: European Geophysical Union, Wiesbaden, (Annales Geophysical, Vol 9 - supp : abstract), April

Zucchini W and Adamson P T: (1989) 'Bootstrap Confidence Intervals for Design Storms from Exceedence Series', Hydrological Sciences Journal, Vol 34 No 1, pp 41-48,

Zucchini W and Adamson P T: (1988) 'Assessing the Risk of Deficient Annual Inflows to a Reservoir', Journal of Water Resources Management, December.

Pegram G and Adamson P T: (1988) ' Revised Risk Analysis for Extreme Storms and Floods in Natal / Kwa Zulu', invited paper, Proc.South African Institution of Civil Engineers. January, pp 15 20, (with discussion in June issue),

Zucchini W and Adamson P T: (1983) 'The Distribution of Design storms from Exceedence Series', Proceedings of the WMO Symposium: 'The Applications of Statistics in Meteorology', Lisbon, Portugal, Editor Monterley, C

Adamson P T and Dixon M J: (1983) 'On the Application of Mixtures of Two Log Normal Distributions to the Analysis of Water Quality Data', Water SA. Vol 9 (1).

Adamson P T: (1979) 'Probability Distributions of Best Fit to South African Flood Data', Water SA, Vol 5, No 2, pp 70 76, April 1979