Pilgrim, David H

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David Pilgrim


David Herbert Pilgrim: 2 December 1931 (Sydney) – 11 April 2015 (Sydney)


David Herbert Pilgrim was born in Sydney on 2 December 1931. He graduated from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 1953 with a first class honours degree in Civil Engineering and the University Medal. He spent five years working as a Design Engineer with the (then) NSW Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission, before joining the School of Civil Engineering (UNSW) as a Lecturer in 1958. So began David’s outstanding academic career in hydrology and water resources.

David spent thirty five years as a staff member of UNSW, the last seven as Professor and Head of the Department of Water Engineering, a group which has long been pre-eminent in research and post- graduate training in Australia. David was also the equivalent of a Deputy Chancellor of Western Sydney College of Advanced Education right through it being changed to what is now the University of Western Sydney from the mid-1970s till 1990. Despite his heavy workload with the development of the Australian Rainfall and Runoff (ARR – see details in Hydrological Achievements), teaching and his own research, he always had time to talk to his research students, discuss their ideas, make suggestions, and if they were despondent, send them away with renewed enthusiasm. His students never felt that he was hurrying them out the door so that he could get back to his own work. His lectures were meticulously prepared and presented in a way that showed his command, and love of, the subject. He was viewed by many of his students as one of the best, if not the best lecturer they had.  

It is a tribute to David Pilgrim and his revision team that the Australian Rainfall and Runoff was the 1989 Sydney Division winner and 1990 National Winner of the Institution of Engineers, Australia Excellence Award in the category "Engineering Reports, Procedures and Systems".

David was made a "Member of the Order of Australia" in 1988 "for service to science, particularly hydrology", a key recognition of his role in hydrology in the country, in helping develop the next generation of Civil Engineers at the University of New South Wales, and in the remarkable effort he spent in writing and editing the 3rd edition of the Australian Rainfall and Runoff (1987).

In his own words when accepting the Ray K. Linsley Award from the American Institute of Hydrology in 2002: While this might appear somewhat parochial and not of international significance, and very "applied", it gives a great deal of satisfaction to see one's research efforts over many years come to fruition in incorporation in generally accepted national guidelines. "Australian Rainfall and Runoff” is probably unique in providing authoritative guidelines for flood estimation for a nation, particularly as large and diverse geographically as Australia, and having the imprimatur of the national professional body.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

David’s early research produced new insights on the runoff response of catchments under rainfall. His 1967 PhD thesis titled "The development of a radioactive technique for tracing surface runoff on a small catchment" brought him international recognition in this area. The linking of his tracer studies with recognized flood routing procedures was an important contribution. His ongoing research interests focused on development of design flood procedures, including methods for small to medium sized rural catchments, extreme floods, losses, runoff-routing models, and rainfall temporal patterns. Much of the current Australian design practice is based on this work.

The quality of his many publications, contributions and achievements has been widely recognised. His Doctor of Science from UNSW in 1984 was awarded for published papers under the theme "Studies in flood hydrology and the modelling of runoff". For students of hydrology, his 1986 Water Resources Research invited paper titled “Bridging the gap between flood research and design practice” is both an insight into the many problems that still impact design flood estimation approaches across the world, as well as an excellent outline of the many challenges that still need to be overcome. He was a two-time winner (1982, 1986) of the Warren Medal, awarded each year by the Institution of Engineers Australia for the best engineering paper. He was invited to give the 1988 Unwin Lecture at The Institution of Civil Engineers, London; this annual event honours ‘a significant person or achievement’. In 1991 he was the Munro Orator at the Hydrology and Water Resources Symposium held in Adelaide. When he received the Ray K Linsley award from the American Institute of Hydrology in 2002, he was only the second person outside the USA to be accorded the accolade.

Professor Pilgrim considered his career highlight to be his editorship of the third edition of Australian Rainfall and Runoff (ARR) which was published in 1987. ARR has been regarded as the authoritative publication on flood estimation in Australia since its first edition in 1958. In 1982, the Institution of Engineers, Australia (Engineers Australia) requested David Pilgrim to lead a team (mostly from the School of Civil Engineering at the University of NSW) to completely revise and rewrite the document. This was a five-year project, which involved extensive interaction with the profession throughout Australia. The overall project involved work to the value of about $4 million (in 1987), and produced a document that has endured. In 1987 ARR was published in two volumes, the second composed mainly of maps of design rainfall prepared by the Bureau of Meteorology and some other design maps and charts. He contributed greatly to the first (and main) volume of ARR, not only as its Editor-in-Chief, but also as the author of Chapters 1, 5, 7, and 9 and co-author as several others (3, 10, 12, and 13).


Reference Material[edit]

The History of the University of New South Wales: School of Civil and Environmental Engineering : 1949-2010, by Mary. O'Connell; University of New South Wales, ISBN9780733429507, 2010.


Major Publications[edit]

Australian Rainfall and Runoff – a guide to flood estimation, The Institution of Engineers Australia, 1987. (D H Pilgrim, editor and author. See above)

D.H. Pilgrim and I. Cordery, Flood runoff. In Maidment, D.R., (ed), Handbook of Hydrology, Ch. 9, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1992, pp. 9.1-9.42.

D.H. Pilgrim, Some Reflections on Australian Hydrology. Munro Oration, Hydrology and Water Resources Symposium, 1991, Perth, Inst. Engrs Aust., 1991, 23p.

D.H. Pilgrim and G.E. McDermott, Design Floods for Small Rural Catchments in Eastern New South Wales. Civil Eng. Trans. Inst. Engrs. Aust., 1982, Vol. CE24, pp. 226-234. [Warren Medal]

D.H. Pilgrim, Estimation of Large and Extreme Design Floods. Civil Eng. Trans. Inst. Engrs. Aust., Vol. CE28, 1986, pp. 62-73. [Warren Medal]

D.H. Pilgrim, Radioactive Tracing of Storm Runoff on a Small Catchment. Part 11 - Discussion of Results. Jour. of Hydrology, 1966, Vol. 4, pp. 306-326.

D.H. Pilgrim, Travel Times and Nonlinearity of Flood Runoff from Tracer Measurements on a Small Watershed. Water Resour. Res., 1976, Vol. 12, pp. 487-496.

Pilgrim, D.H. and Huff, D.D., 1978. A field evaluation of subsurface and surface runoff: I. Tracer studies. Journal of Hydrology, 38(3-4), pp.299-318.

Pilgrim, D.H., Huff, D.D. and Steele, T.D., 1978. A field evaluation of subsurface and surface runoff: II. Runoff processes. Journal of Hydrology, 38(3-4), pp.319-341.

Pilgrim, D.H., Huff, D.D. and Steele, T.D., 1979. Use of specific conductance and contact time relations for separating flow components in storm runoff. Water Resources Research, 15(2), pp.329-339.

Boyd, M.J., Pilgrim, D.H. and Cordery, I., 1979. A storage routing model based on catchment geomorphology. Journal of Hydrology, 42(3-4), pp.209-230.

Pilgrim, D.H., Cordery, I. and Baron, B.C., 1982. Effects of catchment size on runoff relationships. Journal of Hydrology, 58(3-4), pp.205-221.

Pilgrim, D.H. and Huff, D.D., 1983. Suspended sediment in rapid subsurface stormflow on a large field plot. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 8(5), pp.451-463.

Pilgrim, D.H., 1983. Some problems in transferring hydrological relationships between small and large drainage basins and between regions. Journal of Hydrology, 65(1-3), pp.49-72.

D.H. Pilgrim, Bridging the Gap Between Flood Research and Design Practice. Trends and Directions in Hydrology, Water Resour. Res., Vol. 22, 1986, pp. 165S-176S. (Invited contribution)


[Institution of Engineers, Australia, Water Hall of Fame]

[David Herbert Pilgrim AM (1931–2015), Australasian Journal of Water Resources, 19:1, 1-2,2015]