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16.07.2014 - Natural Sciences Sector

In Memoriam, Professor Michael (Mike) Bonell (1943-2014)

Prof Michael Bonell © University of Dundee

It is with deep sorrow that the Secretariat of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) learned of the passing of Professor Michael (Mike) Bonell on 11 July 2014 in Paris.

Born in 1943 in Sheffield, England, Mike Bonell obtained a B.Sc. (Hons) in Geography and Mathematics in 1966 and a Ph.D. in shallow groundwater hydrology from the University of Hull, United Kingdom, in 1972. In 1973, he joined the James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, Australia as a Lecturer in Physical Geography specializing in hydrology and climatology, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1980 and then Reader in Physical Geography in 1986. In 1987, he became the inaugural Director of the Institute for Tropical Rainforest Studies (now a Federal Australian Government Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) for Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Management). 

In 1992, Mike joined the UNESCO Division of Water Sciences, taking responsibility for the IHP component on the “impacts of climate variability and change on hydrology and water resources” and the Humid Tropics Programme.  He later became the Division’s inaugural Chief of Section: Hydrological Processes and Climate (1998-2006). His tenure at IHP covered three six-year phases (IHP-IV, IHP-V, and IHP-VI) of the programme and included the global coordination of two major cross-cutting IHP initiatives i.e., the Flow Regimes from International Experimental and Network Data (FRIEND) and the Hydrology for the Environment, Life and Policy (HELP).  Combining rigorous understanding of hydrologic processes with an equally deep recognition of the value of sound water resources management policies, Mike distinguished himself during his tenure at UNESCO (1992-2006) as a promoter and builder of multi-disciplinary scientific cooperation networks interfacing science, water policy, and water law. 

In November 2007, Mike Bonell joined the University of Dundee in Scotland as a Professor of Catchment Science at the Centre for Water Law, Water Policy and Science (under the auspices of UNESCO).  He also served, since 2008, as an Honorary Professor at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University (UK) where he continued to conduct collaborative research in tropical forest hydrology.  He also held several visiting posts in various universities and research centres in Europe and Australia prior to joining UNESCO as well as after his retirement.

A recipient of  the Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole (September 1991), awarded by the French Ministère de l'Agriculture et de la Forêt for his contribution to forest hydrology,  his contributions to hydrologic sciences included over one hundred publications on hillslope and forest hydrology in the tropics, synoptic and rainfall climatology, and the hydrological impacts of climatic variability. Until shortly before his passing, Mike was working on a research project analyzing rainfall in the high altitudes in the Western Ghats in India, as well as advising the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on freshwater biodiversity assessments.

Mike’s enthusiasm, leadership, wisdom, and fine humor made him a most appreciated peer and colleague.  He will be sadly missed but fondly remembered as the exemplary man he was.  He is survived by his wife, Ms Daphne Mullett-Bonell, and his two daughters.




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