Michigan Tech Research Forum

Fall 2018 Distinguished Lecturer - Dr. Alex Mayer

Alex S. Mayer


Dr. Alex Mayer - 
Coping with uncertainty: Water tales from the Wild West and elsewhere

Presented on October 25, 2018


Seven questions with Alex Mayer

Q1. You are a civil and environmental engineer whose research focuses on groundwater flow and transport. How did you come to choose this path? Or, did it choose you?  

My research focus is now mostly on sustainable management of water resources, especially on how to contend with climate and socio-economic uncertainty. The path chose me more or less. On a faculty exchange in Mexico, I was attempting to work on saltwater intrusion problems in a water-scarce, water-conflicted region and realized that 99% of the work in solving these problems is in understanding how people value water and make decisions about how they use water, with uncertain information. I work on water resources problems and solutions in the US southwest, northwest and central Mexico, and small island nations. We attempt to develop these solutions in collaboration with decision-makers, water users and other relevant stakeholders.

 Q2. How do your research and teaching complement each other?

 I usually teach groundwater and surface water hydrology, mathematical modeling, environmental engineering senior design, and seminar classes. The hydrology and mathematical modeling classes relate to the water resources that I study and my use of models to simulate water resources systems. The senior design courses offer an opportunity to work with students on problems with uncertain technical constraints and where social values need to be incorporated into the design. The seminar classes usually focus on coupled natural-human systems and the solution of natural resources problems. 

 Q3. What has changed the most in your fields of expertise over the past decade (or two)? 

 There has been a greater appreciation that the problems we're trying to solve are wicked and need to consider multidisciplinary frameworks.

 Q4. What is the biggest challenge in your fields of expertise? 

 We haven't quite figured out how to interact with decision-makers and so policy still seems to lag behind science.  I think our field has a lot to offer to help society build resilience into decision-making about water resources and other natural resources problems. 

 Q5.  What role do citizens play in solving some of the world's groundwater, surface water, and watershed issues?

  1.  Pressure lawmakers to immediately act on mitigating climate change
  2.  Vote
  3.  Find a way to engage in the solution of local-regional water and other natural resources problems
  4. etc.