Eagleson, Peter S

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Peter Sturges Eagleson

27 February 1928 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) - 6 January 2021


Peter S Eagleson was born in Philadelphia, the son of William Boal and Helen (Sturges) Eagleson. He graduated from Lehigh University with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1949, followed by a Master of Science, Lehigh University in 1952. He then studied for a Doctor of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that was awarded in 1956.

He then worked as a Junior engineer for George B. Mebus ( construction engineering), Glenside, Pennsylvania, 1950-1951; teaching assistant, Lehigh University, 1951-1952; research assistant, Massachusetts Institute Technology, 1952-1954; member of faculty, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1954-1993; professor сivil engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1965-1993 (with a year as a Fulbright senior research scholar Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation, Canberra, Australia, 1966-1967). He served as; Head of the Department of Civil Engineering at MIT, 1970-1975. He held a position as Visiting Associate Professor at California Institute Technology, 1975-1976.

In 1992, he was MIT Killian Award lecturer, the Institute’s highest faculty honor. Following his retirement from MIT in 1993 he has been Emeritus Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Lehigh University conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Engineering in 1998.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Professor Eagleson was a pioneer in the field of hydrology by expanding its scope to encompass both engineering applications with important societal value and science investigations on the global water cycle with broad and deep impacts on understanding how the Earth System works. While his earliest work reflected the engineering concerns of urban drainage and coastal sediment transport, but in the 1960’s shifted his interest towards hydrology. Initially he focused on linear systems representations of the basin response. Using those tools he produced results and insight into the design of monitoring/observation systems. By 1970 he had concluded that hydrology needed anchoring in fundamental science principles. He argued that the science of hydrology needed to first describe, deterministically, as much as it could of the basic processes of the hydrologic cycle. That led to the path breaking book, Dynamic Hydrology in 1970. In contrast to engineering hydrology and the geologic, descriptive, hydrology that dominated at the time, in that book Eagleson tried to physically and quantitatively describe the dynamics and mechanics of the hydrologic processes. This was a sharp break from the past that chartered his future work and influences hydrology to this day.he later provided the inspiration and basis for a modern scientific approach to hydrology and its interactions with vegetation and the atmosphere.

The determinism prevalent in Dynamic Hydrology meant to highlight the importance of predictability. Nevertheless, Eagleson recognized early on that many things in hydrology are inherently stochastic. This is particularly true for precipitation in time and space. His work in characterizing arrival of storms as point processes introduced the fundamental idea that there is a characteristic separation of independent arrivals of storms and that separation varies, with the parameters of a point process, over different climatic regions. This was expressed in a seminal paper on a derived distribution approach to flood frequency estimation also published in Water Resources Research in 1972.

The water cycle interface with the climate system and biogeochemical cycles and its interactions with the biosphere were hallmarks of his new vision. In 1978 Eagleson combined that determinism and stochasticity of hydrologic to publish an extraordinary series of seven papers with the common title Climate Soil and Vegetation. His hypothesis was the existence of a “climax”, a unique combination of the three components of the biosphere-geosphere system – a tendency to a long-term equilibrium everywhere over land. Then, and now, that was a bold and transformational idea. Those papers also laid the foundation for what we know call ecohydrology, the integration of the hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. His ideas were solidified with the book Ecohydrology: Darwinian Expression of Vegetation Form and Function, Cambridge University Press, 2004.

In 1991 the National Research Council published Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences as the book report of a committee chaired by Professor Eagleson. This report recommended a new vision for the field of study that built on his pioneering ideas. The so-called “Blue-Book” established the hydrologic sciences as pillars along other geosciences that collectively support our understanding of the Earth System and guide our stewardship of the home planet.

Following his retirement from MIT, Professor Eagleson continued producing inspiring new ideas and produced the AGU-published Range and Richness of Vascular Land Plants (2009) that ushered in yet another transformation of the discipline by bridging the fields of hydrology and ecology.

He was deeply engaged with the AGU and impacted the geoscience community through his service and his scientific contributions. Peter Eagleson was AGU Hydrology Section President 1982-1984, Union President 1986-1988 and received the Robert E. Horton Medal (1988) and William Bowie Medal (1994).

Other awards included the IAHS International Hydrology Award in 1991, and the Stockholm Water Prize in 1997.


Some tributes to Pete Eagleson and his work inspiring others in hydrology may be found here

Reference Material[edit]

Rodriguez-Iturbe, I, 1988, Horton Medal awarded to Peter S Eagleson, EOS Trans. AGU [1]

Falkenmark, M., and R. L. Bras (1997), Eagleson Receives the Stockholm Water Prize, Eos, 78(49), 568-569 [PDF]

IAHS, 1991, International Hydrology Prize, Peter S Eagleson [2]

An interview with Pete Eagleson by Steve Burges made for the AGU may be found here

Selected Publications[edit]


Eagleson, P.S., 1970. Dynamic hydrology, McGraw-Hill, NY

Eagleson, P.S., 2005. Ecohydrology: Darwinian expression of vegetation form and function. Cambridge University Press.


Eagleson, P.S., Dean, R.G. and Peralta, L.A., 1958. The mechanics of the motion of discrete spherical bottom sediment particles due to shoaling waves (No. 104). US Beach Erosion Board.

Eagleson, P.S. and Dean, R.G., 1959. Wave-induced motion of bottom sediment particles. Journal of the Hydraulics Division, 85(10), pp.53-79.

Eagleson, P.S., 1962. Unit hydrograph characteristics for sewered areas. Journal of the Hydraulics Division, 88(2), pp.1-25.

Eagleson, P.S., Glenne, B. and Dracup, J.A., 1963. Equilibrium characteristics of sand beaches. Journal of the Hydraulics Division, 89(1), pp.35-57.

Eagleson, P.S., Mejia‐r, R. and March, F., 1966. Computation of optimum realizable unit hydrographs. Water Resources Research, 2(4), pp.755-764.

Grace, R.A. and Eagleson, P.S., 1966. The modeling of overland flow. Water Resources Research, 2(3), pp.393-403.

Eagleson, P.S., 1967. Optimum density of rainfall networks. Water Resources Research, 3(4), pp.1021-1033.

Eagleson, P.S., 1972. Dynamics of flood frequency. Water Resources Research, 8(4), pp.878-898.

Eagleson, P.S., 1978. Climate, soil, and vegetation: 1. Introduction to water balance dynamics. Water Resources Research, 14(5), pp.705-712.

Eagleson, P.S., 1978. Climate, soil, and vegetation: 2. The distribution of annual precipitation derived from observed storm sequences. Water Resources Research, 14(5), pp.713-721.

Eagleson, P.S., 1978. Climate, soil, and vegetation: 3. A simplified model of soil moisture movement in the liquid phase. Water Resources Research, 14(5), pp.722-730.

Eagleson, P.S., 1978. Climate, soil, and vegetation: 4. The expected value of annual evapotranspiration. Water Resources Research, 14(5), pp.731-739.

Eagleson, P.S., 1978. Climate, soil, and vegetation: 5. A derived distribution of storm surface runoff. Water Resources Research, 14(5), pp.741-748.

Eagleson, P.S., 1978. Climate, soil, and vegetation: 6. Dynamics of the annual water balance. Water Resources Research, 14(5), pp.749-764.

Eagleson, P.S., 1978. Climate, soil, and vegetation: 7. A derived distribution of annual water yield. Water Resources Research, 14(5), pp.765-776.

Caro, R. and Eagleson, P.S., 1981. Estimating aquifer recharge due to rainfall. Journal of Hydrology, 53(3-4), pp.185-211.

Eagleson, P.S., 1982. Ecological optimality in water‐limited natural soil‐vegetation systems: 1. Theory and hypothesis. Water Resources Research, 18(2), pp.325-340.

Eagleson, P.S. and Tellers, T.E., 1982. Ecological optimality in water‐limited natural soil‐vegetation systems: 2. Tests and applications. Water Resources Research, 18(2), pp.341-354.

Restrepo-Posada, P.J. and Eagleson, P.S., 1982. Identification of independent rainstorms. Journal of Hydrology, 55(1-4), pp.303-319.

Eagleson, P.S. and Segarra, R.I., 1985. Water‐limited equilibrium of savanna vegetation systems. Water Resources Research, 21(10), pp.1483-1493.

Eagleson, P.S., 1986. The emergence of global‐scale hydrology. Water Resources Research, 22(9S), pp.6S-14S.

Rodriguez-Iturbe, I., Cox, D.R. and Eagleson, P.S., 1986. Spatial modelling of total storm rainfall. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. A. Mathematical and Physical Sciences, 403(1824), pp.27-50.

Rodriguez‐Iturbe, I. and Eagleson, P.S., 1987. Mathematical models of rainstorm events in space and time. Water Resources Research, 23(1), pp.181-190.

Milly, P.C.D. and Eagleson, P.S., 1987. Effects of spatial variability on annual average water balance. Water Resources Research, 23(11), pp.2135-2143.

Eagleson, P.S., Fennessey, N.M., Qinliang, W. and Rodriguez‐Iturbe, I., 1987. Application of spatial Poisson models to air mass thunderstorm rainfall. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 92(D8), pp.9661-9678.

Milly, P.C.D. and Eagleson, P.S., 1988. Effect of storm scale on surface runoff volume. Water Resources Research, 24(4), pp.620-624.

Entekhabi, D. and Eagleson, P.S., 1989. Land surface hydrology parameterization for atmospheric general circulation models including subgrid scale spatial variability. Journal of climate, 2(8), pp.816-831

Jasinski, M.F. and Eagleson, P.S., 1989. The structure of red-infrared scattergrams of semivegetated landscapes. IEEE Transactions on geoscience and remote sensing, 27(4), pp.441-451.

Entekhabi, D., Rodriguez‐Iturbe, I. and Eagleson, P.S., 1989. Probabilistic representation of the temporal rainfall process by a modified Neyman‐Scott rectangular pulses model: Parameter estimation and validation. Water Resources Research, 25(2), pp.295-302.

Nash, J.E., Eagleson, P.S., Philip, J.R., Van der Molen, W.H. and Klemeš, V., 1990. The education of hydrologists (Report of an IAHS/UNESCO Panel on hydrological education). Hydrological Sciences Journal, 35(6), pp.597-607.

Jasinski, M.F. and Eagleson, P.S., 1990. Estimation of subpixel vegetation cover using red-infrared scattergrams. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, 28(2), pp.253-267.

Eagleson, P.S., 1991. Hydrologic science: A distinct geoscience. Reviews of Geophysics, 29(2), pp.237-248.

Hawk, K.L. and Eagleson, P.S., 1992. Climatology of station storm rainfall in the continental United States: Parameters of the Bartlett-Lewis and Poisson rectangular pulses models.

Johnson, K.D., Entekhabi, D. and Eagleson, P.S., 1993. The implementation and validation of improved land-surface hydrology in an atmospheric general circulation model. Journal of Climate, 6(6), pp.1009-1026.

Brubaker, K.L., Entekhabi, D. and Eagleson, P.S., 1993. Estimation of continental precipitation recycling. Journal of Climate, 6(6), pp.1077-1089.

Eagleson, P.S., 1994. The evolution of modern hydrology (from watershed to continent in 30 years). Advances in Water Resources, 17(1-2), pp.3-18.

Arris, L.L. and Eagleson, P.S., 1994. A water use model for locating the boreal/deciduous forest ecotone in eastern North America. Water Resources Research, 30(1), pp.1-9.