Rivers & Hydrology, Homero Paltan @hpnk: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Homero Paltan, PhD Student

NAME:  Homero Paltan

CURRENT TITLE:  PhD Candidate in Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. Topic of research: ‘Rivers and Hydrology in Cold Regions: Sensitivity to Climate Change’

AREAS OF INTEREST:  River dynamics, water sources and climate change; tools to spatially link these topics [modeling, geographic information system (GIS), remote sensing].


EDUCATION:  BSc in Geography (Universidad Catolica del Ecuador); MSc in Remote Sensing, GIS, Natural Resources Management, Environmental Modelling (University of Twente & University of Southampton).

What’s your job like?

My job consists of designing a hydrological framework that will allow us to understand water and river sensitivity to climate change in cold regions. That means I have to understand what the drivers are that govern the generation of runoff, water movement and in general the spatiality of water. With these ideas clear, I look at how shifts in climate conditions affect those drivers and thus rivers, catchment hydrology and water sources.

My emphasis is on cold regions, as these areas play an important role in earth system functioning. They provide a wide variety of environmental services, and in cold regions, we have the chance to explore water in its three states!

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day for me would consist of running simulations of rivers and catchments. That means that I first try to get an accurate representation of the ‘current’ state of a catchment. Once this is done, I just play with the river: I disturb the physics of it. So I will change  the way it rains, the way soil infiltrates water, characteristics of the snowpack, the wave speed in a river, etc. By doing this, I am then able to understand how important those are, and where and in what magnitude catchments shift their functions.


Picture from an airplane as we were approaching Ny-Alysund in Svalbard, Norway. Photo copyright: Homero Paltan

What’s fun?

I think that there’s no need to discuss that water is an essential element that drives physical processes and human activities.  However, I find myself lucky to be able to explore tools and concepts that allow me to assess the dynamism of water, where it is and how much of it we can find.

It’s cool to explore some basic questions like: Where does all the water that melts from a glacier or snowpack go? What would happen to water sources in a catchment if regional temperature increases by 0.5 degrees? How much water will be available in a river or flow down to the ocean if less snow is available?

So I guess that it is amazing to explore how different natural elements interact with each other: ice, snow, meltwater, soil, topography, etc., and see how they constitute a dynamic system.

What’s challenging?

Since I am currently a PhD student, it is challenging to limit the boundaries and scope of my research. When studying an exciting topic like this, it is very easy to keep exploring more, so it’s a challenge.

What’s your advice to students?

My advice would be to always find links and connections. Everything is connected to something else. Find any phenomenon or element you are interested in and connect it to something else. Explore how a single process would affect other natural or human dynamics. Explain that process in terms of its consequences, build loops and try to integrate many processes.