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Water-R2O: National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT)


The University of Alabama Water-R2O NRT program integrates hydrologic engineering, artificial intelligence, and decision science into an interdisciplinary education program enhancing student capabilities for use-inspired research and careers in water forecasting.

Education Innovations

  • Team Science. Following recent advances in the Science of Team Science, Water-R2O students will learn about Team Science and co-create interventions based on proven practices to overcome the barriers they face in working across disciplines.
  • Use-Inspired Research. In the first semester, students work with faculty, Practitioners, and users to define the research needs in hydrologic forecasting and interactively develop their curriculum and research to take ownership of their learning in the spiral curriculum.
  • Co-Production of Learning. Faculty and practitioners design and deliver the student learning experiences using experiential and project-based pedagogies.
  • Iterative Self-Reflection. Students will be guided through regular metacognition activities to reflect on their learning, identify he barriers to learning and integrating disciplines to create solution, and innovate self-directed education solutions looking forward.

Learning Outcomes


  • Explain sources of and reasons for uncertainty in hydrologic forecasts
  • Describe how process-based and machine learning models work and their strengths and weaknesses
  • Articulate risk perception and behaviors of hydrologic forecast users

Knowledge gained through courses in artificial intelligence, hydrologic science, geospatial analysis, and decision science.


  • Use industry-standard software and methods for hydrologic modeling
  • Apply artificial intelligence techniques for hydrologoc forecasting and water data science
  • Design hydrologic forecast products that effectively communicate risk to stakeholders using multiple tools and modes

Skills built through training workshops and coursework in machine learning, hydrologic modeling, and decision making.


  • Collaborate across disciplinary boundaries to deliver hydrologic forecasts
  • Communicate with diverse audiences and build trust in hydrologic forecast methods
  • Have confidence to contribute to the hydrologic forecasting workforce and research community

Competencies acquired through Water Forecasting Study Tour, Operational Hydrology Praxis Lab, and Water Research to Operations Seminar.

Course Sequence


  • Domestic Study Tour
  • GY 552: Environmental Decision Making (3 Credits)
  • CE 591/CS 592/GY 532: Hydrologic Forecasting Seminar (2 credits)
  • NRT approved elective


  • CE 500/600: Praxis Lab (3 credits)
  • CE/CS/GY 500/600: Hydrologic Forecasting Seminar (1 credit)
  • NRT approved elective

Immersive Experiential Learning Requirement

Must complete one of the following:

  • International Study Tour (Summer)
  • Internship (any semester)
  • National Water Center Summer Institute
  • Other approved experience taken in the summer or during the spring or fall semester

 The two electives can be taken any semester.

Required Courses

Approved Electives

Other electives approved by the NRT Faculty Committee will be accepted as electives. One elective must be taken from Artificial Intelligence/Data Science and one elective must be taken from Hydrologic Modeling and Analysis.  Electives can be taken any semester.

Professional Development and Experiential Learning

Water Research to Operations Seminar

A seminar course will be offered in both the fall and spring semesters. The hydrologic forecasting seminars are required and will align with other related events on campus. For example, the fall seminar is scheduled to align with the AWI WaterWorks and UA-CIROH monthly meeting that are offered on varying Fridays followed by a post seminar discussion and reflection.

Water Forecasting Study Tour

Prior to the start of the fall semester, students accepted to the program will participate in a 3-4 day study tour of operational hydrologic forecasting centers within driving distance of UA. The aim of the tour is to build the cohort, expose students to operational hydrology practice and career opportunities, give students an early opportunity to brainstorm research connections to operational hydrologic forecasting, and give them an initial introduction to the Science of Team Science and the benefit of convergence of disciplines. The planned tour locations are: Tennessee Valley Authority’s River Forecast Center in Knoxville, TN; NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, AL; Baron Critical Weather Intelligence Service in Huntsville, AL; National Weather Service’s Southeast River Forecast Center in Atlanta, GA; and National Weather Service’s Forecast Office in Birmingham, AL. Visiting multiple sites is essential because forecasting system operations vary based on the provider and the constituency they serve. Students will also benefit from experiencing the variety of computational platforms, workflows, and decision models used. These visits will help students comprehend the need for multidisciplinary teams to deliver a useful forecast, establish future connections to research mentorship, expose students to practical ways to deliver operational hydrologic forecasts, introduce challenges with getting societal response (i.e., how users of products interpret and respond/react), and understand that a 100% answer may not be needed and/or feasible. Moreover, students will meet industry and government partners and preview their organizational culture, community, and ethos. Chaperones from the NRT core team representing civil engineering, computer science, and geography will provide integrated learning – connecting the tours to Water-R2O research focal areas, understanding of the hydrologic forecasting ecosystem, career pathways, and research to operations applications.

Water Forecasting Study Abroad

The goal of the international study tour is to expose students to hydrologic forecasting operations in international settings considered among the best in the world. The two-week program will include stops at forecasting offices / operations centers in Europe dictated by current events near the time of finalizing the itinerary. The students will have contact time at selected European forecast offices to meet with forecasters, tour facilities, meet with researchers and graduate students, and meet with users and decision makers to gain perspective of the entire hydrologic forecasting ecosystem. They will also understand how the international forecasting entities collaborate with the U.S. Students will be at a point of narrowing their research topics enabling them to ask focused questions of international experts and graduate students.

The NSF NRT International Experience may leverage existing relationships with the University of Trento (Italy) and the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia).  Current research activities in the Po and Adige river basins, Italy’s first and second longest rivers, include examining extreme dry (drought) periods since 2000 and potential climate linkages. Slovenia’s recent initiative to increase renewable energy has resulted in several new hydropower facilities being constructed on the Sava River, a primary tributary of the Danube River. Thus, there is an increased interest in understanding the natural variability of this river system. 


Given the emphasis of Water-R2O on connecting to practice, students will have an option to complete an internship experience with one of our collaborators or another member of the hydrologic forecasting ecosystem. The aims of the internship are to (1) help connect the two semesters of Water-R2O curriculum and the students’ home department learning experiences (courses, co-curricular, etc.) to potential career pathways and (2) build professional skills and confidence. The internship is structured with learning objectives focused on reinforcing two key areas of the student’s first two semesters of the NRT program – (1) connecting the technical aspects of hydrologic forecasting and the social-behavioral aspects of decision making (scaffolding the learning from the Operational Hydrologic Prediction and Decision Making course) and (2) applying AIML skills to hydrologic forecasting (scaffolding the learning from the AIML in Real-Time Hydrologic forecasting course).

Professional Development and Skills Building Workshops

A beneficial aspect of this NRT for the students will be the continuous integration of co-curricular activities to add value to the learning outcomes. Students will have the opportunity to attend meetings and workshops based off the mentoring needs identified by the students with the Project Coordinator helping the students to identify appropriate mentors. In addition, the Project Coordinator will work with the NRT students to brainstorm ideas for group-based professional development opportunities (e.g., technical conference trip, science communication workshop). Engagement and other learning opportunities from home departments, AWI, NOAA National Water Center, USGS Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility, and others will be available and made known to the students throughout the program.