Falkenmark, Malin

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Malin Fredrika Sofia Sundberg-Falkenmark (21 November 1925 - December 2023)


Malin Falkenmark is the daughter of Halvar Sundberg. She graduated as a Fil. Mag. (Swedish equivalent to a master's degree) in mathematics, physics, chemistry and mechanics at Uppsala University, in 1951. In 1964, she became the first Fil. Lic. (Swedish equivalent of PhD at the time) of hydrology in Sweden,[2] where she studied the “Bearing capacity of an ice sheet”. Later in 1975, she was awarded the title of PhD Honoris causa at Linköping University.

Falkenmark's professional history includes holding positions as State Hydrologist at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (1950s-60's), and later at the Swedish Natural Science Research Council (1965–95), where she became Executive Secretary, and later Chair of the Swedish National Committees for UNESCO’s International Hydrological Decade/Programme.

As the Chair of the Scientific Program Committee at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) (1991–2003) Falkenmark led the establishment of the annual Stockholm World Water Week (initially named Stockholm Water Symposium), which grew to be the "annual focal point for the globe’s water issues"

Falkenmark has held numerous posts on international boards and committees, including as General Rapporteur of the United Nations Water Conference Mar del Plata (1977); World Bank Consultant with special responsibility regarding the looming water scarcity (1988–92); member of the UN Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Development and the UN Millennium Project Task Force for Environmental Sustainability; member of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Global Water partnership; and Scientific Advisor to the Global Environment Facility and the Comprehensive Freshwater Assessment of the World.

Falkenmark is a Professor of Applied and International Hydrology. Between 1976 and 1979, she led the planning and development of the Department for Water and Environment Studies at Linköping University; after her formal retirement, in 1991, she became part of Stockholm University’s Department of Systems Ecology.

In 2007, she joined the Stockholm Resilience Center as a senior researcher. She is also currently the senior scientific advisor at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

In 2022, inspired by her teaching and long contribution to our sector, IAHS launched a new award in her honour aimed at the best PhD thesis from a financially disadvantaged country called the Falkenmark Award.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Falkenmark is best known for her long-standing work and expertise on the sustainable use of water resources to meet human and ecosystem needs. Her work is characterized by an integration of both natural- and social-science approaches. She is particularly known for developing what is now known as the Falkenmark Water Stress Indicator, an indicator used to measure and describe the water available for human use (water scarcity). The level of water scarcity in a certain country was determined based on thresholds: If the amount of renewable water in a country is below 1,700 m3 per person per year, that country is said to be experiencing water stress; below 1,000 m3 it is said to be experiencing water scarcity; and below 500 m3, absolute water scarcity.

The concepts of green and blue water were first introduced by Falkenmark in 1995, and defined green water as "the rainwater that infiltrates into the root zone and is used for biomass production", and blue water as "the water that either runs off from the soil surface or percolates beyond the root zone to form groundwater"

In a more recent publication, green water has been defined as the soil water held in the unsaturated zone, formed by precipitation and available to plants, while blue water refers to liquid water in rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers, which can be withdrawn for irrigation and other human uses.[11] Both resources are important for food production; rainfed agriculture uses green water only, while irrigated agriculture uses both green and blue water.

In 1991 she was awarded the IWRA Ven Te Chow Memorial Award; in 1998 the Volvo Environment Prize and the IAHS/UNESCO/WMO International Hydrology Prize; in 2005 the Rachel Carson Prize and the Crystal Drop Award; in 2010 the Prince Albert II of Monaco Water and Desertification Award and in 2018, she shared the Blue Planet Prize with ecologist Brian Walker.


From an interview in 2018: “At that time I was the first female hydrologist in the ice department. However, the men were not so appreciative. There was a man who was in charge of facility management, and he didn't want to give me a key. Perhaps he thought I was not trustworthy because I am a woman.

But there was no other option. Whenever a problem occurred, the way to meet it was to stand tall, literally. Because I am so tall, that was very effective. The man responsible for the key was much shorter than me!”

From Line Gordon: “Malin supervised me on my master's thesis. Once I had submitted my first draft, Malin called me up and sat with me for over two hours to go through the text which was completely red with her comments and suggested changes. I was devastated. Just as I was about to leave, she looked me in the eyes and said ‘You must understand that I only spend this much time with you because I think that this is really good!’”

From Anton Earle, Director at SIWI’s Africa Regional Centre.: “Malin really brought colour to her work. She glowed with passion for the topics which she worked on and shared a warmth for the people that she worked with, always interested to provide well considered and thoughtful input to a question from a colleague. But importantly she brought colour to the world of water. As a traffic light system conveys complex topics in a simple to understand and intuitive way, so too did her distinction between blue and green water help us understand a complex part of the hydrological cycle”.

From Asia K. Biswas: "Malin was a remarkable human being, always kind, courteous and constructive. In my 50 years of work with her, I never saw her angry or exchange sharp words. She was the first hydrologist in Sweden to receive a doctorate. For her lifelong contributions to water sciences, she received both the Volvo Environment Prize and the Blue Planet Prize."

Reference Material[edit]

Based on the article in Wikipedia

Stockholm Resilience Centre Obituary

Interview with Malin Falkenmark for the Blue Water Prize

Water Wisdom Interview with Malin Falkenmark on YouTube

Thankyou Malin Falkenmark SIWI obituary

Malin Falkenmark: An Extraordinary Water Scientist by Asia K. Bissau

Rockström, J., Wang-Erlandsson, L., Folke, C., Gerten, D., Gordon, L.J. and Keys, P.W., 2024, Malin Falkenmark: Water pioneer who coined the notion of water crowding and coloured the water cycle. Ambio 53(5): 657-663. 10.1007/s13280-024-01989-7.

Selected Publications[edit]


Falkenmark, M. and Lindh, G., 1977, Water for a Starving World, Routledge, NY, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429267260

Falkenmark, M, 1989, Geosphere-Biosphere Interactions: Outlooks To Past, Present And Future

Falkenmark, M. and Rockström, J., 2004. Balancing water for humans and nature: the new approach in ecohydrology. Earthscan.

Agarwal, A., de los Angeles, M.S., Bhatia, R., Chéret, I., Davila-Poblete, S., Falkenmark, M., Villarreal, F.G., Jønch-Clausen, T., Kadi, M.A., Kindler, J. and Rees, J., 2000. Integrated water resources management (pp. 1-67). Stockholm: Global water partnership.

Johan Rockström, Malin Falkenmark, Carl Folke, Mats Lannerstad, Jennie Barron, Elin Enfors, Line Gordon, Jens Heinke, Holger Hoff, Claudia Pahl-Wostl, 2014, Water Resilience for Human Prosperity, Cambridge UP


Falkenmark, M., 1986. Fresh water: Time for a modified approach. Ambio, pp.192-200.

Falkenmark, M., 1989. The massive water scarcity now threatening Africa: why isn't it being addressed?. Ambio, pp.112-118.

Falkenmark, M., Lundqvist, J. and Widstrand, C., 1989, November. Macro‐scale water scarcity requires micro‐scale approaches: Aspects of vulnerability in semi‐arid development. In Natural resources forum (Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 258-267). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Falkenmark, M., 1990. Global water issues confronting humanity. Journal of Peace Research, 27(2), pp.177-190.

Falkenmark, M. and Widstrand, C., 1992. Population and water resources: a delicate balance. Population bulletin, 47(3), pp.1-36.

Falkenmark, M., 1997. Meeting water requirements of an expanding world population. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 352(1356), pp.929-936.

Falkenmark, M. and Lundqvist, J., 1998, Towards water security: political determination and human adaptation crucial. In Natural Resources Forum (Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 37-51). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Rockström, J., Gordon, L., Folke, C., Falkenmark, M. and Engwall, M., 1999. Linkages among water vapor flows, food production, and terrestrial ecosystem services. Conservation ecology, 3(2).

Rockström, J. and Falkenmark, M., 2000. Semiarid crop production from a hydrological perspective: gap between potential and actual yields. Critical reviews in plant sciences, 19(4), pp.319-346.

Falkenmark, M. and Folke, C., 2002. The ethics of socio-ecohydrological catchment management: towards hydrosolidarity. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 6(1), pp.1-10.

Falkenmark, M., 2003. Freshwater as shared between society and ecosystems: from divided approaches to integrated challenges. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 358(1440), pp.2037-2049.

Gordon, L.J., Steffen, W., Jönsson, B.F., Folke, C., Falkenmark, M. and Johannessen, Å., 2005. Human modification of global water vapor flows from the land surface. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(21), pp.7612-7617.

Falkenmark, M. and Rockström, J., 2006. The new blue and green water paradigm: Breaking new ground for water resources planning and management. Journal of water resources planning and management, 132(3), pp.129-132.

Rockström, J., Lannerstad, M. and Falkenmark, M., 2007. Assessing the water challenge of a new green revolution in developing countries. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(15), pp.6253-6260.

Milly, P.C., Betancourt, J., Falkenmark, M., Hirsch, R.M., Kundzewicz, Z.W., Lettenmaier, D.P. and Stouffer, R.J., 2008. Stationarity is dead: Whither water management?. Science, 319(5863), pp.573-574.

Falkenmark, M. and Molden, D., 2008. Wake up to realities of river basin closure. International journal of water resources development, 24(2), pp.201-215.

Falkenmark, M., Rockström, J. and Karlberg, L., 2009. Present and future water requirements for feeding humanity. Food security, 1, pp.59-69.

Rost, S., Gerten, D., Hoff, H., Lucht, W., Falkenmark, M. and Rockström, J., 2009. Global potential to increase crop production through water management in rainfed agriculture. Environmental Research Letters, 4(4), p.044002.

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F.S., Lambin, E.F., Lenton, T.M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H.J. and Nykvist, B., 2009. A safe operating space for humanity. nature, 461(7263), pp.472-475.

Rockström, J., Falkenmark, M., Karlberg, L., Hoff, H., Rost, S. and Gerten, D., 2009. Future water availability for global food production: The potential of green water for increasing resilience to global change. Water resources research, 45(7).

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin III, F.S., Lambin, E., Lenton, T.M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H.J. and Nykvist, B., 2009. Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and society, 14(2).

Gordon, L.J., Finlayson, C.M. and Falkenmark, M., 2010. Managing water in agriculture for food production and other ecosystem services. Agricultural Water Management, 97(4), pp.512-519.

Hoff, H., Falkenmark, M., Gerten, D., Gordon, L., Karlberg, L. and Rockström, J., 2010. Greening the global water system. Journal of Hydrology, 384(3-4), pp.177-186.

Falkenmark, M., 2013. Growing water scarcity in agriculture: future challenge to global water security. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 371(2002), p.20120410.

Rockström, J., Falkenmark, M., Allan, T., Folke, C., Gordon, L., Jägerskog, A., Kummu, M., Lannerstad, M., Meybeck, M., Molden, D. and Postel, S., 2014. The unfolding water drama in the Anthropocene: towards a resilience‐based perspective on water for global sustainability. Ecohydrology, 7(5), pp.1249-1261.

Rockström, J. and Falkenmark, M., 2015. Agriculture: Increase water harvesting in Africa. Nature, 519(7543), pp.283-285.

Milly, P.C., Betancourt, J., Falkenmark, M., Hirsch, R.M., Kundzewicz, Z.W., Lettenmaier, D.P., Stouffer, R.J., Dettinger, M.D. and Krysanova, V., 2015. On critiques of “Stationarity is dead: Whither water management?”. Water Resources Research, 51(9), pp.7785-7789.