Department of Civil Engineering
Steven Weijs' research aims to analyse the streams of information that play a role when understanding, modelling, predicting, and managing flows of water. Managing water flows through rivers, lakes, aquifers, plants, and manmade systems are essential for safety, agriculture, hydropower and ecology. To manage these water flows, we need to understand and predict them, and therefore information is needed. This information comes from observations (through the naked eye, various sensors, satellites) and from knowledge of the physical processes. Steven analyses the various pathways in which hydrological information reaches these informed decisions to answer questions like: What observations contribute most to improved predictions for hydropower operations?; What information is lost when using simplified models to describe the complex reality?; What model complexity is justified by the data?
In his work, Steven makes use of information theory, a mathematical theory originally developed for describing how much information can be transmitted over a noisy communication channel (e.g. a telephone line or radio link). In Steven's work, the noisy channel is our measurement and modelling process that enables us to receive some of the information “sent” by complex systems like watersheds. A key challenge is the vast range of scales interacting in such watersheds, from the global climate change scale, to the pore scale in a soil, mutually influencing each other through complex feedbacks. Less information “lost in transmission” leads to better decisions.
In addition to the theoretical side of his research, Steven likes to explore new ways of tapping information from the environment, involving inexpensive sensors from consumer electronics, image-processing techniques, and citizen science components.
Prior to UBC:
Before coming to UBC, Steven completed his PhD at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, after which he moved to Lausanne, Switzerland for postdoctoral work in the environmental fluid mechanics (EFLUM) lab and the cryospheric sciences lab (CRYOS) at EPFL. Before starting his PhD, Steven worked two years as a water resources engineering consultant in the Netherlands, working on hydrological modelling and real time control of the Dutch below sea-level water systems. He received his B.Sc. and M. Sc. degrees in Civil Engineering from Delft University of Technology.
Steven's research work has been published in Water Resources Research, Journal of Hydrology, Monthly Weather Review, Entropy, and several other journals. He is an associate editor of Hydrological Sciences Journal and for Frontiers in Earth Sciences. His Swiss work was funded by the prestigious AXA Research Fund postdoctoral fellowship.
In his free time, Steven likes to go for strolls and play outdoors with his family, or go on longer hiking and camping trips in the mountains, and develop ridiculous home automation projects or other DIY electronics / hacking projects. Where possible these activities are integrated in his research work, see e.g. "Using hacked point and shoot cameras for time-lapse snow cover monitoring in an Alpine valley," presented in the "MacGyver-session" at the European Geosciences Union general assembly in Vienna.