Cluster Hire

Interdisciplinary Cluster in Freshwater Sustainability

Cluster Hire Description

The University of Wisconsin-Madison initiated a cluster hire to solve “wicked water problems” (Freeman, 2000). This cluster hire initiative was launched in 2019 and was initially comprised of three faculty positions including a freshwater ecologist, a hydrologist, and a water resources economist. The freshwater ecologist position has been filled.  We are now seeking to fill the remaining two positions.

Together, these positions will enhance UW-Madison as a global leader in addressing emerging water sustainability issues.  Each faculty member will have a disciplinary home department, as well as an option for a joint appointment in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. As shown in Figure 1, the cluster’s combined expertise in hydrological, biological, and social sciences will position the group to dig deeply into the solutions to wicked water management problems.

Figure 1. How the Three Faculty Positions of the Cluster Hire Relate

Cluster Hire Background

The cluster hire emerged from the collective interests and deliberation of the 100+ faculty and other researchers of the Water@UW-Madison community. The organization’s executive committee solicited input from Water@UW-Madison members on areas of faculty expertise that are: (i) under-represented at UW-Madison; (ii) most likely to complement existing expertise on multidisciplinary projects; (iii) poised to increase UW-Madison’s external funding competitiveness; and (iv) at the forefront of innovative multidisciplinary approaches for addressing critical state and national water problems.

The “wicked water problems” that the cluster is supposed to help solve are water-related problems that require interdisciplinary collaboration, integration of different types of knowledge, and working across several units of analysis simultaneously. More generally, wicked problems are those that involve complex natural systems spilling across traditional scientific disciplinary boundaries, and interacting with similarly complex social systems to frustrate solutions. An example is the allocation of limited freshwater resources amongst agricultural uses, ecosystems, and municipalities that rely on the same water source. While inherently a resource limitation problem from the scientific standpoint, actual solutions require coordination with existing policies, stakeholder engagement and acceptance, and consideration of how human actors may adapt to changes in policy or resource allocation. Many of the water problems facing society can be traced to trade-offs in the quantity and quality of water available to each of these entities. Four examples of wicked water problems in Wisconsin that would be addressed by this cluster are shown in Figure 2 (Disappearing Lakes, Harmful Algal Blooms, Wetland Ecosystem Services, and Nitrate Pollution).

Figure 2. Examples of Wicked Water Problems in Wisconsin

Our proposed cluster will collaboratively conduct analyses that integrate across hydrological, biological, and social sciences to yield insights into the dynamics of these coupled human-natural systems, thereby providing a foundation for science-based decision making and more effective water management strategies.

Additional information will be posted to this page.

Click here for information about the Office of the Provost Cluster Hire Initiative