Laurenson, Eric M

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Eric Marwick Laurenson March 9th 1932 (Sydney, Australia) – April 22nd 2003 (Melbourne, Australia)


Eric Laurenson, who died aged 71 on 22nd April at his home in Melbourne, was a highly respected civil engineer and academic who made an outstanding contribution to hydrological and water resources engineering practice and education. He grew up in Sydney and gained a traineeship with the NSW Public Works Department to study Civil Engineering at the fledgling NSW University of Technology (later re-named The University of New South Wales) from 1949 to 1952, graduating with 1st Class Honours and sharing the University Medal.

Eric then worked at the PWD and carried out the detailed analysis for the spillway design flood for Eucumbene Dam. From 1956 to 1970 he was a member of staff of the School of Civil Engineering at UNSW, rising to the rank of Associate Professor. In 1961, he was awarded a PhD for a thesis on runoff routing – one of the first applications of computer modelling in hydrology.

After serving as Head of the School of Engineering and Professor of Civil Engineering at the PNG University of Technology at Lae from 1970 to 1972, Eric took up a chair appointment in Civil Engineering at Monash in 1973. For the next 25 years he led a group that had major impact on water engineering in Australia. He was also Head of Department for 14 of those years, and quickly earned the respect of staff for his integrity and fairness.

Eric made outstanding contributions in his professional life, with both a national and international reputation. He leaves a lasting legacy for the profession in his technical papers and reports, the successes of so many of his postgraduate and undergraduate students, and his influence on standards of professional practice.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Eric was one of the greats in the field of flood estimation, with wide ranging expertise (eg. characteristics of rainfall events, calculation of rainfall-excess, flood hydrograph estimation, floodplain hydraulics, and flood frequency). Of his many contributions, he is perhaps best known for his major role in developing the RORB model, a computer simulation package first released in 1975.

As a member of the Institution of Engineers Australia’s Technical Committee No 2 (Stormwater Standards), Eric played a large part in preparing the flood estimation and design aspects of the first (1958) edition of “Australian Rainfall and Runoff”. He also played a major role in the mounting of the first coursework M Eng Sc courses in Australia and of the three-month Graduate Course in Hydrology, which over the next 40 years was attended by over 600 students from 45 countries and from all Australian states.

Perhaps Eric’s best known contribution to engineering hydrology is the RORB program for flood estimation using runoff routing which he developed in conjunction with Russell Mein. An initial version of the program was released at the first Monash Water Engineering Workshop in 1975. Over the next 20 years Eric remained in close contact with the practical users of the program, adding many enhancements and adaptations to allow its use in a wide range of practical applications.

Apart from his pioneering research on runoff routing methods, Eric made major contributions to many areas of flood estimation research, including frequency analysis, dam safety, design losses, flood routing, and joint probability of factors affecting runoff generation and flow. For the latter, his 1974 paper in Water Resources Research “Modelling of stochastic-deterministic hydrologic systems” established a probabilistic framework that was able to deal with a broad range of joint probability problems in hydrology, and is a seminal paper in this area.

He saw communication and adoption as being vitally important; hence, in 1975, the Water Group began an extended series of Water Engineering Workshops, which were outstandingly successful in their impact on professional practice. In a parallel exercise, the Group offered a part-time Masters by Coursework degree in Water Resources/Environmental Engineering which ran for over 20 years.

Reference Material[edit]

Source: David Pilgrim Obituary for Institution of Engineers Australia

Source: Russell Mein and David Pilgrim Obituary for the Melbourne Age

Major Publications[edit]

  • Laurenson, E.M. and Pilgrim, D.H. (1963). Loss rates for Australian catchments and their significance. IEAust, The Journal, Jan.-Feb. 1964, 9-24.
  • Laurenson, E.M. (1964). A catchment storage model for runoff routing. Journal of Hydrology, Vol 2, 141-163.
  • Mein, R.G., Laurenson, E.M. and McMahon, T.A. (1974). Simple nonlinear model for flood estimation. ASCE, Journal of the Hydraulics Division, Vol. 100, HY11, 1507-1518.
  • Laurenson, E.M. (1974). Modeling of stochastic-deterministic hydrologic systems. Water Resources Research, 10/5, 955-961.
  • Laurenson, E.M. (1987). Back to basics on flood frequency analysis. IEAust, Civil Eng. Trans. Vol. CE29, 47-53.
  • Laurenson E.M and Kuczera, G.A. (1999). Annual exceedance probability of probable maximum precipitation. Australian Journal of Water Resources, 3(2), 167-176.