World-renowned hydrogeologist and leading authority on the threats to groundwater from contamination, John Cherry, PhD, was named the 2020 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate. As the creator of the academic field of contaminant hydrogeology, he has changed the scientific paradigms of groundwater research. Cherry was honored for discoveries that have revolutionized our understanding of groundwater vulnerability. His work has raised awareness of how groundwater contamination is growing around the world and has led to new, more efficient methods to tackle the problem.
Contaminant hydrogeology studies how chemicals and waste leaches into the groundwater. A geological engineer by training, Cherry has pioneered highly collaborative field experiments and new systematic approaches to monitor, control and clean up contaminated groundwater. This has provided keen insights into contaminant transport processes and made it easier to protect groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half the global population.
Cherry’s work has had enormous influence. Through the innovative Borden Groundwater Field Research Facility, which he established in the 1980s, many important scientific discoveries have been made by researchers from different parts of the world. Cherry’s approaches to groundwater monitoring have also been used in many countries, including Canada, Brazil and the United States.
Many students have had their understanding of groundwater shaped by the textbook Groundwater, which Cherry co-authored with Alan Freeze in 1979. Making groundwater knowledge available to students and practitioners around the world has always been close to his heart and most recently this has resulted in the innovative Groundwater Project. In response to recurring requests for him to update the textbook, Cherry started collaborating with other leading groundwater scientists around the world to make their texts available free of charge for anyone to use. The project will be launched in August 2020.
Cherry emphasized that groundwater is overused in many places and contaminated in others, for example from agriculture, the leaching of industrial solvents and fuels, as well as from energy production, such as shale fracking. But in other places, groundwater is underutilized as a source of safe drinking water. He hopes that the Stockholm Water Prize will help bring attention to the global water crisis and the threat to groundwater from both contamination and over-extraction.