With his extensive expertise in isotope hydrology and hydrological modelling, Chris Soulsby is currently one of the internationally best-known and most sought-after hydrologists. As Einstein Visiting Fellow, the award winning scientist researches at the Chair of Water Resources Management and Modeling of Hydrosystems of Technische Universität Berlin, contributing to the DFG Research Training Group “Urban Water Interfaces“.
Please close your eyes and think about your research project. What do you see at first?
I see water moving in the city of Berlin. Not just the obvious water in the river Spree or lakes, but the huge amount stored in the aquifers below the city. And water stored in the soil, which is being transpired by plants or evaporated. Plus, water in pipelines bringing clean water to our homes and removing waste.
How would you explain your research to a child?
I would say that we all need water to drink, but we also use water to remove waste from our homes. If we want to be able to do this and still live in a city with clean rivers and lakes, we need to understand how a rain drop moves through the city landscape and manage this system to keep water clean.
What is it that surprises people when you tell them about your research?
Most people are unaware of the large volumes of water stored underground which are constantly flowing and the long timescales it takes for most water to move through the landscape. In the city people see it rain, and the water runs down the gutter and into drains and therefore people usually intuitively think that water in rivers has only taken a few hours or days to get there. In fact, most of the time, water in rivers has taken years, maybe even decades, to travel underground from a raindrop to reach the river.
With whom would you like to swap your workplace for one day? What would you do?
At the present time, I would swap with the UK prime minister and try and stop the lies and stupidity of “Brexit“.
Is there any rather unusual hobby or talent you might want to share with us?
I really like art and I am fascinated by the ways in which artists pay attention to the natural world in order to represent it visually at different scales and different levels of detail. Although usually very different, this can be very enriching for environmental scientists like me and how we conceptualise nature.
What did your research teach you about life?
That to do something that is excellent and worthwhile usually takes a long time and involves a lot of hard work, commitment and patience. So, its important that you enjoy It!
What would your job be, if not a scientist?
I would probably work in nature conservation and wanted to be a nature reserve manager when I was a student.
Is there any particular object that follows you through work and/or life?
In my home office I have had the same work desk for nearly 30 years. It always puts me in a creative/thinking mood when I sit down at it.
Which place in Berlin do you like the most, and why?
There are so many, but I love the area around the Müggelsee. I once lived in an apartment beside it, and I was never bored looking at the constantly changing light and blues and greens of the lake, forest and sky. In the city itself, I always love walking down “Unter den Linden“ from the Brandenburg gate and then on to Alexanderplatz; the concentration of so much history in such a small area is always astonishing.
Is there anything about Berlin that you didn’t expect at all? And/or something that you miss here? What makes Berlin special for your research?
When I first visited, I was amazed at how “green“ the city is and the large areas of parks, forests and lakes. Being from Scotland though, I really miss hills and mountains; Berlin is incredibly flat! Berlin is a great place to do research, Germany values the Importance of research as “the land of ideas“ and there is such a large concentration of excellent universities and research institutes that Berlin is a stimulating intellectual environment. Also, it’s a fascinating place to study how water moves through urban landscapes.