Willgoose, Garry

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Garry Raymond Willgoose

13 May 1958 (Sydney, Australia) – 26 February 2021 (Newcastle, Australia)


Garry was born in 1958 at Crown Street Women's Hospital in Surry Hills, Sydney, the youngest of 6 children. The family lived in a simple three-bedroom weatherboard cottage on Parramatta Road at Auburn. His father was transferred to Aberdeen in the Upper Hunter in 1964. Garry went to Muswellbrook Public School, then Muswellbrook High School. He always did well in his studies at school. He was dux of Muswellbrook High School in 1975 and one of the top achievers in the State in the HSC (Higher School Certificate) that year, with exceptional results in mathematics and industrial arts.

In the same year, Garry applied for and received a full-time university traineeship for civil engineering with the NSW Department of Main Roads (DMR). He then attended the University of Newcastle from 1976 to 1980 obtaining a Bachelor of Science (majoring in Mathematics) and a Bachelor of Engineering in Civil Engineering with Honours Class 1 and University Medal. He received a number of awards for top marks in various subjects, including the Herzog award for the best undergraduate thesis. His thesis “A Sediment Transport Model for a 2-D Turbulent Open Channel Flow” involved a computer model of the settling behaviour of particles in turbulent flow, and the implications for sediment transport in rivers. It was at the University of Newcastle Edwards Hall student residences that Garry met his future wife Veronica Antcliff. They married in 1983.

Garry attended university on a cadetship with the NSW Department of Main Roads. He therefore worked for the DMR in his summer holidays and for the first year after graduation. His year as an engineer in the Bridge Design Section of the DMR designing bridges and culverts included designing a bridge over the M1 Motorway and another near Bingara.

While attending the University of Newcastle Department of Civil Engineering annual dinner in 1981, where he collected prizes for topping two subjects in his final year, Garry was persuaded to take a job with Croft and Associates doing hydrologic investigations for Environmental Impact Statements. He didn’t like the fact that clients were seeking particular outcomes from governments and wanted reports to be as favourable as possible, and so he left after 9 months.

Garry obtained a two-year contract (1982-4) working as a consulting engineer for the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) in Cooma specializing in hydrology. There he was able to fully utilize what he had learned at university and to give independent and unbiased solutions to the problems he was asked to address. He relished the opportunity to work with other top engineers who had experience in working in a variety of locations around the world.

With his contract at SMEC coming to an end Garry decided to pursue postgraduate studies. He visited David Pilgrim at the University of NSW and was advised to go overseas. He applied to a number of American universities and received a full scholarship to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston. There he completed a Master of Science (1987) and a PhD (1989) under the supervision of Professor Rafael Bras with some ancillary input from Professor Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe (Rafael’s PhD supervisor). Garry’s Master of Science thesis, “Automatic Calibration Strategies for Conceptual Rainfall-Runoff Models”, involved writing a computer program to automatically calibrate a rainfall-runoff flood forecasting model to real-time rainfall and runoff data.

Garry’s PhD thesis “A Physically Based Channel Network and Catchment Evolution Model” won the Lorenz G. Straub Award from the St Anthony Falls Hydraulic Laboratory, Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Minnesota, for the best PhD thesis submitted worldwide in 1989 in the field of water resources and hydraulic engineering. In it he presented the first iteration of his SIBERIA model, a model based on runoff and erosion physics to model the evolution of landscapes over geologic timescales and analysed the implications of this model for predictability of the hydrologic response of catchments.

Returning to Australia in the middle of 1989, Garry spent most of the rest of his working life at the University of Newcastle. Initially he had a postdoctoral fellowship to continue his PhD research developing the SIBERIA landscape evolution model now used by mines around the world as best practice for designing stable rehabilitated landforms after the cessation of open-cut mining. He then worked his way up the academic ladder in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, being appointed a Lecturer in 1991, Senior Lecturer in 1994 and Associate Professor in 1999.

In 2001 Garry was headhunted for a position as Professor in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds in England. He headed off with high hopes at the beginning of 2003 but returned disillusioned at the end of 2005. He was soon back on his feet at the University of Newcastle. Initially Garry won a highly prestigious 5 year Australian Professorial Fellowship to continue his research (2006-2010 inclusive). At the end of that period, he was appointed Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Newcastle and he returned to teaching and administrative duties as well as research. He served in the rotational position of Head of the Discipline of Civil, Surveying and Environmental Engineering from 2011 to 2013.

Sadly, Garry was forced to retire from the university due to ill-health in October 2020, but he continued to maintain email correspondence with work colleagues and fellow researchers in Australia and overseas until shortly before he died. In 2021, he was posthumously promoted to the position of Emeritus Professor by the University of Newcastle in recognition of his "outstanding contribution to the University of Newcastle throughout the last 28 years as an exceptional researcher and educator".

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Garry Willgoose was primarily recognised for his seminal works in landscape evolution modelling using numerical methods, notably the SIBERIA model, which defined a new discipline in fluvial geomorphology. He also had a much wider range of hydrological interests, including in runoff generation and its links to topography, sediment mobilisation and transport, and soil moisture modelling and data assimilation. His insights challenged deterministic paradigms and laid the foundation for statistical validation of landscape models.

Garry’s influence went well beyond the research community. He placed a high value on translating his research into forms that had practical value in environmental management. The SIBERA model saw its first industry application in designing a stable cap to contain tailings at Ranger Uranium mine in the Northern Territory. It has evolved to become the mining industry standard for assessing rehabilitated landforms following cessation of open-cut mining. The model has been used by a large number of students, academics, government agencies as well as consultants. It has now become mandatory for all mine expansions and new mine developments in Qld and WA to use SIBERIA while in all other states is largely standard practice.

His deep theoretical and practical knowledge of environmental matters and widely respected non-partisanship saw him invited to serve on the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Panel and in more recent years on the NSW Independent Planning Commission.

In January 2020 Garry was notified that he was to be awarded the CSDMS (Community Surface Dynamics Modelling System) Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented at the University of Colorado, Boulder in May that year. The citation for the award read

“Professor Willgoose is recognised for outstanding intellectual leadership in the modelling of landform evolution, dynamics, and related processes. Professor Willgoose helped to establish the modern discipline of computational modelling of landscape evolution, demonstrating that the physics of geomorphic processes and their interaction with climate, hydrology, and tectonics are directly reflected in the topographic structure of river basins, and can be quantified using the now famous slope-area relationship and related metrics. He further demonstrated that landscape and soilscape evolution models can be applied to critical engineering challenges related to mining and hazardous waste containment, and that the key unknowns can be discovered and constrained through field monitoring, digital terrain analysis, and laboratory and field experiments. His innovative research has illuminated the critical role of processes such as physical weathering and armoring, and has yielded new insights into how those processes can be understood and modelled. His book “Principles of Soilscape and Landscape Evolution” (Cambridge University Press, 2018) is a tour-de-force on the co-evolution of topography, soils, soil moisture, vegetation, climate, and tectonics, and how that co-evolution can be modelled computationally. Garry Willgoose is a professor in the School of engineering at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and a former Fellow of the Australian research Council.”

In December 2020, Garry was elected as a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. This was the accolade that gave him the greatest satisfaction. From the AGU Fellow Nomination Letter written by Greg Tucker.

“Garry Willgoose’s first contributions to landscape evolution came in a blaze of five papers—products of his dissertation work with Bras and Rodriguez-Iturbe at MIT—that appeared in EOS (Willgoose et al., 1990a), Earth Surface Processes and Landforms (Willgoose et al., 1991a), and Water Resources Research (Willgoose et al., 1991b,c,d). It’s no exaggeration to say that these papers inaugurated the modern generation of numerical landscape evolution models, and set a foundation that the community has followed over the ensuing three decades. These papers weren’t just announcements of a technological breakthrough (though that was part of it: the debut of Willgoose’s now-famous SIBERIA model). They were also packed with new insights. Among them: the notion that the (now widely recognized) inverse relationship between channel slope and contributing area in drainage basins has a simple physical explanation in catchment hydrology and sediment transport mechanics. The slope-area relationship subsequently caught fire among tectonic geomorphologists, and is now routinely used to extract “signals” of tectonics, lithology, and other factors in digital terrain data. Another achievement of that early work was articulation, through dimensional analysis, of the similarity relations in the structure of topography, and how physical factors related to water, sediment, erosion, and scale trade off with one another—introducing, along the way, a powerful analysis technique that later workers in geomorphology picked up (Willgoose et al., 1991c). In this debut work, Willgoose was also the first to my knowledge to grapple formally with the problem of how to think about precipitation and runoff in the context of long-term landscape evolution (spoiler alert: it turns out not to be as simple as “average rain rate times land area times geologic time”).

"Having laid the groundwork for theory and computational modeling of drainage basin evolution, Willgoose then pioneered its practical application to mining-related engineering challenges. Through the 1990s and 2000s, Willgoose led a team of students and colleagues in using numerical modeling to predict long-term erosion, particularly on existing or prospective mine-related landforms, principally in Australia. A great example is Willgoose and Riley (1998), which introduced the application of the SIBERIA model to assessing the 1,000-year stability of a proposed post-mining landscape design.

"Applications like this inevitably demand data, and an important theme of Willgoose’s contributions has been in finding creative ways to test and calibrate models using field measurements, lab experiments, and terrain metrics. Regarding the latter, Willgoose is known for early and clever use of digital elevation models (DEMs) to extract diagnostic metrics for testing models; these include slope-area-elevation scaling (Willgoose, 1994), hypsometry (Willgoose and Hancock, 1998), cumulative area distribution (Perera and Willgoose, 1998), and the spatial distribution of these metrics (Cohen et al., 2008) (it is probably these early applications of DEMs that motivated the frequently cited Walker and Willgoose 1998 paper on the effects of DEM accuracy on hydrologic and geomorphic calculations). In terms of lab experiments, to my knowledge Willgoose (with then-PhD student Greg Hancock) was the first to use scaled “sandbox” experiments to test a numerical model of landscape evolution.

"Applying what started as a relatively simple theoretical framework to real places led to a raft of discoveries about what processes turn out to matter, and in the case of the Australian case-study sites, these included progressive armoring (coarsening of surface sediment as the finer material is removed), and the gradual breakdown in sediment size due to physical weathering. These findings in turn sparked a novel theoretical and computational model of armoring (Sharmeen and Willgoose, 2006a,b; 2007; Cohen et al., 2009, 2010), along with new insights into salt weathering of schist (Wells et al., 2006, 2008).” (from Greg Tucker, AGU Fellow Nomination Letter)

Garry was also a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers in Australia (elected in the Civil College on 7.11.2007), a member of the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society in America, and a Member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (elected 14.12.1994). Before he died, Newcastle University announced that there would be a Garry Willgoose Award for Land Surface Process and Management awarded annually to the environmental engineering student with the best performance in this course.


SIBERIA is not an acronym. It is a misheard pronunciation. “On a return visit to MIT soon after my PhD I was in Rafael Bras’s office with Ignacio and him. I was explaining my latest work where I derived an analytic solution relating to slope, area and elevation for landforms that were not in dynamic equilibrium (Willgoose 1994a). Ignacio was increasingly pacing up and down in the office, puffing on his pipe faster and faster, the air getting thicker and thicker, as he is wont to do when he is excited. After what seemed like 30 minutes of pacing and puffing (but was probably much less) he burst out in his thick Spanish accent “Garry, Garry Garry….Garry, Garry, Garry …… what on earth is this Siberia elevation stuff you are talking about?” My Australian accent had defeated him, yet again. And I thought he was excited about the mathematical result. I was deflated. That evening over a beer with Glenn Moglen (who was a PhD student at the time) I recounted this incident. Glenn burst out laughing and said that’s a great name for a computer code. And so it was.” (Garry Willgoose, from the Preface to Principles of Soilscape and Landscape Evolution.)

To be in a meeting with Garry solving a problem was an inspiring experience – this took place usually Thursday afternoons with the graduate students, but could happen at any time. The discussion would start and Garry either with pen and paper or with the white board in his office and he would go into a trance where he would develop ideas, simplify complex problems with a simple equation and then link the ideas within a computational framework. He would pull textbooks of his shelf and open the book at the correct page and find the equation/model/process what he was looking for. These states of thought were incredible and inspiring to witness. I have never experienced such sheer brilliance – and looked forward to them. However, heaven help if you interrupted these streams of consciousness as you were abruptly told to be quiet! (Greg Hancock)

When Garry first presented his work at a conference, one of the top geomorphologists of the day took a dislike to his ideas and proceeded to verbally crucify him. The story goes that David Dawdy, a giant in the field and a powerful presence, stood up and said words to the effect: “Listen to what he is saying, a few years from now you will be doing the same thing.” (George Kuczera)

Several of his colleagues have described Garry as a gifted communicator. His ability to explain complex concepts to the average person meant that he was often called upon by the ABC and other media outlets to explain and comment on scientific issues in the news, most notably environmental issues. His media profile even extended to occasional appearances as one of the panellists on the “Finally Friday” segment of the ABC local radio Newcastle drive show. He spoke as an independent expert at meetings about coal seam gas in the Hunter Valley in the early 2010’s and he was one of the panellists on the science writing session at Scone Literary Festival in 2020. (Veronica Antcliff)

Garry chose our house in Scone because it had a shed for his tools and a double garage for a model railway. I insisted that he leave just enough room in the garage to park my bicycle and store the garden tools but the rest of the garage was taken up with a model railway layout that included a detailed model of Tenterfield railway station built from scratch from photographs of the plans for the building on display at the actual station, and a model of the roundhouse at Muswellbrook station printed on his 3-D printer. He also had a small layout at our apartment in Newcastle for which he built an accurate model of Newcastle railway station from historic photos. Garry’s other interests also included photography, woodworking and astronomy. (Veronica Antcliff)

The first time that Garry travelled across the Hay Plain in 1981 to meet his future in-laws in Mildura, Victoria, he was gobsmacked that there was anywhere on earth that could be so flat. “It’s so flat you can see the curvature of the Earth” he exclaimed in awe. (Veronica Antcliff)

We both loved trains. Garry had a passion for model railways ever since I knew him. It rubbed off on me so when we moved to a bigger place I too built a model railway in the garage. But Garry was light years ahead of me - he was one hell of a handyman. He could rewire locos, layout track, and scratch build buildings - he spent several years scratch building Newcastle railway station - he was meticulous in getting every detail right and even bought a 3D printer for the finer details such as the cast-iron on the awnings. It was 100% accurate representation. My models look their best several metres away, Garry’s were best right up close. But while I admit Garry was a better modeller than me, at least I haven’t stabbed myself in the leg with a Stanley knife - which Garry managed to do in 1994 while working on one of his models and that required a trip to ED and 12 stitches. (Mark Stewart)

Reference Material[edit]

Selected Publications[edit]


Willgoose, G. (2018). Principles of Soilscape and Landscape Evolution. Cambridge University Press.


Willgoose, G., Bras, R. L., & Rodriguez‐Iturbe, I. (1991). A coupled channel network growth and hillslope evolution model: 1. Theory. Water Resources Research, 27(7), 1671-1684. Willgoose, G., Bras, R. L., & Rodriguez‐Iturbe, I. (1991). A coupled channel network growth and hillslope evolution model: 2. Nondimensionalization and applications. Water Resources Research, 27(7), 1685-1696.

Willgoose, G., Bras, R. L., & Rodriguez‐Iturbe, I. (1991). Results from a new model of river basin evolution. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 16(3), 237-254.

Willgoose, G., Bras, R. L., & Rodriguez‐Iturbe, I. (1991). A physical explanation of an observed link area‐slope relationship. Water Resources Research, 27(7), 1697-1702.

Willgoose, G. (1994). A physical explanation for an observed area‐slope‐elevation relationship for catchments with declining relief. Water Resources Research, 30(2), 151-159.

Gyasi‐Agyei, Y., Willgoose, G., & De Troch, F. P. (1995). Effects of vertical resolution and map scale of digital elevation models on geomorphological parameters used in hydrology. Hydrological Processes, 9(3‐4), 363-382.

Willgoose, G., & Hancock, G. (1998). Revisiting the hypsometric curve as an indicator of form and process in transport‐limited catchment. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms: The Journal of the British Geomorphological Group, 23(7), 611-623.

Hughes, C. E., Binning, P., & Willgoose, G. R. (1998). Characterisation of the hydrology of an estuarine wetland. Journal of Hydrology, 211(1-4), 34-49.

Willgoose, G., & Riley, S. (1998). The long‐term stability of engineered landforms of the Ranger Uranium Mine, Northern Territory, Australia: application of a catchment evolution model. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 23(3), 237-259.

Walker, J. P., & Willgoose, G. R. (1999). On the effect of digital elevation model accuracy on hydrology and geomorphology. Water Resources Research, 35(7), 2259-2268.

Western, A. W., Grayson, R. B., Blöschl, G., Willgoose, G. R., & McMahon, T. A. (1999). Observed spatial organization of soil moisture and its relation to terrain indices. Water resources research, 35(3), 797-810.

Walker, J. P., Willgoose, G. R., & Kalma, J. D. (2001). One-dimensional soil moisture profile retrieval by assimilation of near-surface observations: a comparison of retrieval algorithms. Advances in Water Resources, 24(6), 631-650.

Walker, J. P., Willgoose, G. R., & Kalma, J. D. (2001). One-dimensional soil moisture profile retrieval by assimilation of near-surface measurements: A simplified soil moisture model and field application. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 2(4), 356-373.

Hancock, G. R., Willgoose, G. R., & Evans, K. G. (2002). Testing of the SIBERIA landscape evolution model using the Tin Camp Creek, Northern Territory, Australia, field catchment. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms: The Journal of the British Geomorphological Research Group, 27(2), 125-143.

Walker, J. P., Willgoose, G. R., & Kalma, J. D. (2004). In situ measurement of soil moisture: a comparison of techniques. Journal of Hydrology, 293(1-4), 85-99.

Walker, J. P., Houser, P. R., & Willgoose, G. R. (2004). Active microwave remote sensing for soil moisture measurement: a field evaluation using ERS‐2. Hydrological processes, 18(11), 1975-1997.

Willgoose, G. (2005). Mathematical modeling of whole landscape evolution. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci., 33, 443-459.

PM Saco, GR Willgoose, GR Hancock (2007), Eco-geomorphology of banded vegetation patterns in arid and semi-arid regions, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 11 (6), 1717-1730

Cohen, S., Willgoose, G., & Hancock, G. (2008). A methodology for calculating the spatial distribution of the area‐slope equation and the hypsometric integral within a catchment. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 113(F3).

Chen, M., Willgoose, G. R., & Saco, P. M. (2014). Spatial prediction of temporal soil moisture dynamics using HYDRUS‐1D. Hydrological processes, 28(2), 171-185.

Deb, P., Kiem, A. S., & Willgoose, G. (2019). A linked surface water-groundwater modelling approach to more realistically simulate rainfall-runoff non-stationarity in semi-arid regions. Journal of Hydrology, 575, 273-291.

Deb, Proloy, Anthony S. Kiem, and Garry Willgoose. "Mechanisms influencing non-stationarity in rainfall-runoff relationships in southeast Australia." Journal of Hydrology 571 (2019): 749-764.