Picture of                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Jeffrey J.  McDonnell

Jeffrey J. McDonnell PhD, FRSC Professor, School of Environment and Sustainability

Associate Director, Global Institute for Water Security

National Hydrology Research Centre

Research Area(s)

  • Watershed Hydrology
  • Runoff Processes and Modelling
  • Isotope Hydrology
  • Hydrological Theory

Academic Credentials and Affiliations

  • Doctor of Science, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Forest Hydrology, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • Master of Science in Watershed Ecosystems, Trent University
  • Bachelor of Science in Physical Geography, University of Toronto

Research Profile


Jeffrey J. McDonnell was born in Toronto, Canada and has a BSc (Hon) from the University of Toronto, MSc from Trent University and PhD and DSc from the University of Canterbury, where he was a Commonwealth Scholar. He has taught at Utah State University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Oregon State University, where he was Richardson Chair in Watershed Science and University Distinguished Professor. Since 2012, he has been Professor of Hydrology and Associate Director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan. Jeff’s work focuses on new ways to measure, understand and model streamflow generation processes. He has co-authored >300 articles on watershed hydrology and co-edited the Elsevier textbook “Isotope Tracers in Catchment Hydrology”. He was the founding Editor of HPToday and sits currently on a dozen journal editorial boards. He is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (Canada’s National Academy of Science), and an elected Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union. He is the 2016 winner of the International Hydrology Prize (Dooge Medal) from the International Association of Hydrological, UNESCO and World Meteorological Organization. Previously, he has received the Dalton Medal from the European Geophysical Union and the Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lecturer Award from the Geological Society of America. Jeff is currently President of the AGU Hydrology Section and Visiting Distinguished Professor at Tsinghua University. 

Research Projects

The McDonnell lab focuses on measuring, modelling, and understanding watershed-scale water cycling. From its first 20 years, the group focused on streamflow generation and the age, origin, and pathway of storm runoff. Understanding watershed storage and release was the overarching research goal. Most of the group's early work focused on hydrograph separation, streamwater transit time analysis and deciphering runoff mechanisms across diverse catchments. For the past 10 years, the group has begun to broaden its aims by going after questions of how geology and biology affect the amount and age of water in streams and how isotope tracers can help answer these questions. Our goal for the next 10 years, is the development of an age-based theory of the catchment water cycle to complement and extend the traditional water balance.

Current Research

  • Quantifying the effects of freeze-thaw cycles on mine cover system design and performance
  • Runoff Generation Processes In Headwater Catchments:  The Role of Storage and Release
McDonnell Distinguished Lecture 2017
Swift Current Research Site - Saskatchewan River Basin

News and Media

Selected Publications

Recent Mentoring Papers 

McDonnell, J.J.  2017.  The sustainable scientist.  Science, 357(6356): 1202. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.357.6356.1202

McDonnell, J.J.  2017.  Paper writing gone Hollywood.  Science, 355(6320): 102. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.355.6320.102

Steelman, T.A. and McDonnell, J.J.  2017.  Look for the leaders.  Nature, 547: 483. https://doi.org/10.1038/nj7664-483a

Recent Commentary

McDonnell J.J.  2017  Beyond the water balance.  Nature Geoscience, 10: 396. https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2964

Laudon, H., Spence, C., Buttle, J., Carey, S., McDonnell, J.J., McNamara, J., Soulsby, C., and Tetzlaff, D. 2017.  Save northern high latitude catchments.  Nature Geoscience, 10: 324-325. https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2947

Evaristo, J. and McDonnell, J.J.  2017.  A role for meta‐analysis in hydrology. Hydrological Processes, 31(20): 3588-3591.  https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.11253

Berry, Z.C., Evaristo, J., Moore, G., Poca, M., Steppe, K., Verrot, L., Asbjornsen, H., Borma, L.S., Bretfeld, M., Hervé-Fernández, P., Seyfried, M., Schwendenmann, L., Sinacore, K., De Wispelaere, L., and McDonnell, J.J. 2017.  The two water worlds hypothesis: Addressing multiple working hypotheses and proposing a way forward. Ecohydrology, e1843.  https://doi.org/10.1002/eco.1843

Recent Research Papers

Jasechko, S., Perrone, D., Befus, K., Cardenas, M.B., Ferguson, G., Gleeson, T., Luijendijk, E., McDonnell, J.J., Taylor, R.G., Wada, Y., and Kirchner, J.W.  2017.  Global aquifers dominated by fossil groundwaters but wells vulnerable to modern contamination.  Nature Geoscience, 10: 425-429. https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2943

Jasechko, S., Kirchner, J., Welker, J., and McDonnell, J.J.  2016.  Substantial portion of global river discharge less than three months old.  Nature Geoscience, 9: 126-129. https://doi.org/10/1038/ngeo.2636

Pfister L., Martínez-Carreras N., Hissler C., Klaus J., Carrer G.E., Stewart M.K., and McDonnell, J.J.  2017.  Bedrock geology controls on catchment storage, mixing, and release: A comparative analysis of 16 nested catchments.  Hydrological Processes, 31(10): 1828-1845.  https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.11134

Zhang, Z.Q., Evaristo, J., Li, Z., Si, B.C., and McDonnell, J.J.  2017.  Tritium analysis shows apple trees may be transpiring water several decades old.  Hydrological Processes, 31(5): 1196-1201. https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.11108

Evaristo, J. and McDonnell, J.J.  2017.  Prevalence and magnitude of groundwater use by vegetation: A global stable isotope meta-analysis.  Scientific Reports, 7:11440.  https://doi.org/10.1038/srep44110

Courses Taught

  • ENVS 827 - Breakthroughs in Water Security