Rodier, Jean

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Jean Rodier 1914 (Boulogne sur Seine, France) - 1994


Jean Rodier was born on 18 June 1914 in Boulogne sur Seine. After a mathematics and literature baccalauréat, he was a pupil of the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, where he came fourth in the year 1938. He returned to University some 30 years later in October 1964, producing an Engineering Doctorate thesis at the Faculté des Sciences of Toulouse, entitled "Hydrological regimes of Black Africa west of Congo". As a Sub-lieutenant of the reserve at the end of his military service (1938- 1939), he was immediately called up, as were many men of his generation, and took part in the battles of the Second World War between 1939 and 1940. He served in the 17th Battalion of Tanks where he won a mention in dispatches from his Division.

From November 1940 to December 1941, he practised his talents as an engineer at Maurice Damien's company, specializing in "electroplastics". On 15 January 1942, he came into touch with "Electricity" as an engineering assistant to the head of the Electro-mechanics Department, then assistant to the head of the Civil Engineering Department of the Hydropower Company of La Cère (in the Massif Central). He worked there as a civil engineer, prospector and hydrologist. In April 1946, General De Gaulle, created EDF (Electricité de France, the French electricity producer), within the framework of the nationalization of energy producers. This absorbed the Hydropower Company of La Cère. At EDF, where he spent his whole career, the first function of Jean Rodier was as a chief engineer at the Solid Discharge Section. In April 1947 he was assigned to the General Inspection for the French and Foreign Union, which became a little later the Inspection Générale pour la Coopération (IGECO, General Inspection for Cooperation), and then the Direction des Affaires Extérieures et de la Coopération (DAFECO, Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Headquarters). In 1949, he became the Head of the Prospecting and Hydrology Department of DAFECO, and he continued in this position till 1958.

With this background, Jean Rodier became the reference hydrologist, a specialist on Africa, carrying out several assignments in Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Haute Volta, Gabon, etc., to prospect for dam sites and water projects of any kind and to undertake the preliminary hydrological studies necessary for such projects.

When it was created in 1958 he became the first head of the Hydrological Department of EDF-DAFECO. For these reasons, his name was associated with the hydrological studies for the main hydropower dam projects at that time in West and Central Africa: the Ayamé dam in the Ivory Coast on the Bia, the Kouilou dam at Sonda (that was never finished) in the Congo, the Koussou dam on the Bandama in the Ivory Coast and the Edéa hydroplant on the Sanaga in Cameroon. But even at that time, Jean Rodier deviated from the hydropower purpose in hydrology, and came into touch with more varied hydrological problems, such as studies of the navigability of large African rivers or the hydrological potential for water supplies for large African towns, dealing with discharge forecasting. He was at that time an expert in tropical hydrology, much sought-after by international organizations (United Nations, WMO, UNESCO) and private design offices. But his involvement in tropical hydrology was confirmed and strongly reinforced when EDF-DAFECO asked him, by the end of 1949, at the request of ORSTOM, to set up and be the head of hydrological studies in this newly created organisation. He held this appointment until his retirement in 1977.

To begin with he had to build up a hydrological department for the French territories and sub-divisions overseas, that developed the hydrometric network indispensable to the development of these countries. This Hydrological Department of Orstom and its local sections was the embryo of most of the national departments now working in French-speaking Africa. At the dawn of independence, it controlled more than 800 gauging stations, equipped with staff gauges and automatic recorders. In those roles, Jean Rodier presided over the development of the hydrological institutions of 17 French-speaking African countries.

When the installation of most of the hydrological network was completed, a Central Hydrological Office was created in Paris, in charge of research projects. There were two sections, one for basic research and the other for applied research, which were managed respectively by Marcel Roche and Pierre Dubreuil. At this time, the nature of hydrological studies carried out by the Central Hydrological Office and the overseas sections was extremely varied and covered the whole thematic field of hydrology, according to the approach in force at that time. As early as 1953, the Government of West Africa asked the Hydrological Section of ORSTOM to study the first 10 elementary catchments, through the method then called "analytic". These catchments were quickly connected with a lot of others, since the synthesis of the data collected from these catchments, published in 1972 and signed by Pierre Dubreuil, gathered data from 272 of them. This thematic approach to hydrology, through the study of representative catchments, then experimental ones, fed later the main part of the scientific output of Jean Rodier. During his career, Jean Rodier also undertook prestigious duties for and received accolades from the main international organizations in the hydrological field. He was:

- a member of the college of experts of UNESCO for the hydrology of arid zones in 1952;

- a member of the Technical Committee of the Société Hydrotechnique de France from March 1955;

- the inter-African coordinator for hydrology of the Commission for Technical Cooperation in Africa from 1958 to 1965;

- a member of the French National Committee of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS) from 1956 and Vice-President in 1969; he was President of IAHS from 1971 to 1975, then Secretary General of the Association from 1975 to 1979;

- a member of the Commission on Hydrometeorology of the World Meteorological Organization in 1961 and President of the Working Group on the Planning of the Networks for this Commission; he was Vice-President of the Commission of Hydrometeorology from 1968 to 1971.

Jean Rodier also collected the following decorations and awards: holder of the Military Cross 1939-1940; he became a graduate of the Academy of Sciences in 1960; Chevalier de l'Etoile Noire of Benin; Chevalier du Mérite Agricole Français in August 1964; Knight of the Legion of Honour in December 1964; Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques in February 1973; and Officier de l'Ordre National du Mérite in July 1976. For his outstanding contributions to water sciences Jean Rodier was awarded the IAHS International Hydrology Prize in 1985. When ORSTOM moved from Paris to Montpellier in 1986, his endeavours were commemorated by naming one of the corridors in the new building "Jean Rodier Allée". He was also the father of 9 children.

Dr Jean Rodier died on May 1st, 1994, in his 80th year. He had devoted 52 years of his life to hydrology. Until his final illness prevented it, he continued to write reports and papers transmitting his great knowledge, the fruit of long experience, served by a prodigious memory and penetrating intuition.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Jean Rodier was the father of African tropical hydrology and one of the most active participants during a pioneering period of hydrology.

In the wider world of hydrology, he soon became active in international organizations, serving on the WMO Commission for Hydrology, participating in numerous projects for UNESCO, the International Hydrological Decade, then the International Hydrological Programme. Jean Rodier was elected President of IAHS at the IUGG General Assembly in Moscow in 1971. It was a time of change for the Association following the illness of Professor Leon Tison and the resignation of Dr Szestay from the Presidency due to his appointment to a post at the United Nations, New York. George Kovacs was confirmed as Secretary-General at the same Assembly. He become Secretary General of the Association at the Grenoble Assembly from 1975 to 1979. At the end of that term of office, he continued to play a very active part in the affairs of the Association as an Associate Editor of Hydrological Sciences Journal and other IAHS publications.

Reference Material[edit]

Source: Bernard Pouyaud: Jean Rodier, pioneer and father of tropical hydrology

John Rodda: Jean Rodier's second retirement: as personal view

Pierre Hubert (1994) Obituary, Hydrological Sciences Journal, 39:4, 406-406, DOI: 10.1080/02626669409492759 [1]

Major Publications[edit]

Beran, M.A. and Rodier, J.A., 1985. Hydrological aspects of drought: a contribution to the International Hydrological Programme (Vol. 39). Unesco.

Rodier, J.A., 1985. Aspects of arid zone hydrology. Facets of hydrology, 2, pp.205-247.

Nemec, J. and Rodier, J.A., 1979. Streamflow characteristics in areas of low precipitation (with special reference to low and high flows). Proceedings... The Hydrology of areas of low precipitation.

Rodier, J.A., 1982. Evaluation of annual runoff in tropical African Sahel (No. 145). ORSTOM.

Rodier, J A, 1963, Bibliographie hydrologique africaine = = Bibliography of African hydrology, UNESCO [Paris]