Research Associate, Hydrogeology, Claus P. Haslauer @planetwater: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Claus Haslauer, Research Associate, University of Tübingen, Centre for Applied Geoscience

NAME: Claus P. Haslauer

CURRENT TITLE:  Research Associate at the University of Tübingen, Centre for Applied Geoscience [Zentrum für Angewandte Geowissenschaften (ZAG), workgroup of hydrogeology, junior PI (Research Training Group “Integrated Hydrosystem Modelling“)]

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Describing and modelling spatially distributed parameters and quantifying their effects on geo-hydrology; experience in statistical & stochastic methods, numerical methods in geo-hydrology, and applied field hydrogeology


– Dipl.-Ing. Environmental Engineering, University of Stuttgart, Germany;
– M.Sc. Earth Sciences (Hydrogeology), University of Waterloo, Canada;
– PhD Engineering, University of Stuttgart, Germany;
– PostDoc International Research Training Group “Integrated Hydrosystem Modelling”

TWITTER: @planetwater

What’s your job like?

Most parameters change with space (and time). A quintessential experience was when I drilled two holes right next to each other in the Woodstock drumlin field in southwestern Ontario, Canada. When I looked at the cores, there was no correlation evident between hydrogeologic layers, even though they were drilled right next to each other. Based on that experience, I started to look into ways for describing spatial dependence structures statistically. Since then, I have developed and expanded novel ways to do that (using copulas). I look not only at hydraulic conductivity, but also at all kinds of spatially distributed parameters such as precipitation, air quality, groundwater quality parameters, or geophysical parameters.

The following is a list of things I do regularly:

  • I run my own research focussed position centering on novel methods to describe spatial dependence structures. I concentrate on multivariate copulas. With the help of these, I try to answer the following questions:
    – What kind of dependences structure can be observed based on measurements?
    – How can such dependence be described and modelled? What advantages does such a description have, particularly on uncertainty quantification?
    – How can these models be used for spatial interpolation and simulation?
    – What effects does the improved description of the spatial dependence have on secondary/dependent parameters? For example, given I improve the spatial dependence of saturated hydraulic conductivity, what effect does this have on solute transport characteristics?
  • Another key research aspect is to make use of as much data and information as is available to improve the model of the primary variable. This includes the use of censored measurements (e.g. below detection limit), hard secondary data (e.g. electrical conductivity improves the estimate of chloride), and soft secondary information (land-use improves the estimate of anthropogenic contaminants).
  • In an ongoing collaboration with the State Agency of the Environment in Baden-Württemberg, we are implementing a copula-based method that uses secondary information to interpolate groundwater quality parameters on a regional scale for operational use. The state agency is mandated to monitor the conditions in groundwater and creates maps of a few hundred parameters using our novel method. This work is carried out by a group of people including the Department of Hydrology and Geohydrology at the University of Stuttgart.
  • I currently advise a wonderful PhD student who works on similar topics. I am also co-advising other wonderful PhD students on more general geo-hydrologic topics, ranging from analysing solute transport behaviour in hierarchical sedimentary deposits, impacts of irrigation and climate change on nitrate transport in an arid catchment, and coupled plant-evolution and hydrosystem modelling.
  • I am dealing with day-to-day issues of people running HydroGeoSphere, other modelling codes, and other scientific code on not so small computers.
  • I teach a mandatory course on “environmental modelling” for first-year master degree students in applied environmental geoscience and a course on “geostatistics.”

What’s a typical day like?

It seems like I never experience a typical day… 🙂

I spend quite some time “programming” [checking results, fixing (hopefully improving) programs]. Sometimes this is tedious. It can be extremely rewarding (when the results look good) and frustrating (if they don’t). I thoroughly enjoy (most of the time) talking, discussing, and programming with students. I am writing, editing, and preparing manuscripts and presentations.

What’s fun?

I thoroughly enjoy talking and meeting people. We have a good amount of visitors to the department, and collaborations have emerged from these meetings.  I also like talking and working with students. I have been lucky to have worked with a set of very smart, hard-working, and fun people in the past. From these, I learn a lot, and I find it very rewarding if something “nice” (a working code, an experiment) occurs. Pair programming is not a thing in scientific programming, but it sure reduces the number of bugs.

I really like to solve an applied problem. It is very rewarding to me, if people are in a better situation through my work. For example, the people of a city have a more sustainable water supply at less cost, because a treatment plant with installation and operational cost is not necessary, due to best management practices on farm land within the capture zone being implemented and monitored with agronomists and geo-hydrologists.

What’s challenging?

It becomes harder and harder for me to find time for my own core work. This means, foremost, that I find less and less time to think, program, and try things out. This means also that I find less and less time to read something out of curiosity (and not because an editor has assigned me to read something), or that I keep up with the developments in the geo-hydrology field and the scientific programming field.

I have worked extensively in the field before and have done experiments in the laboratory. In the last few years, I have worked heavily with statistics and numerics. All these compartments have their advantages and problems, and all of them require smartness albeit in different areas. I have built a numerical model before based on the data that I measured myself. I find this to be a rare occurrence. I would like to combine some or all of these aspects more in the future.

I find it hard to say, “No.” There are a lot of interesting things at the department, university, other universities, and conferences. There is also the family, sports (so far, I have managed to go out on a boat once a year) and other fun stuff. The key challenge is to balance this out and find a happy optimum.

What’s your advice to students?

  • Play hard! If you have the chance to learn programming – take it! If you have the chance to work in the field – take it!
  • Explore! If you’re programming or in the field, try doing things in a variety of ways!
  • It matters less what you do compared to the fact that you do.
  • Talk to people! This could mean your fellow students, more senior students in the parts of university that you frequent often, and staff and faculty!
  • Party hard!

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