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Professor John Cherry


Citation for Professor John Anthony Cherry


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Professor John Anthony Cherry was awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize 2016 for his contributions to the advancement of groundwater science, policies, and technologies. A world-renowned hydrogeologist, his revolutionary research in collaboration with international partners has provided the global groundwater community with a better scientific framework to formulate policies and best practices. He has been a major influence in advancing global recognition of groundwater processes and the development of better field methods for monitoring groundwater contamination.

Beyond research and policy impacts, the scientific framework for monitoring technologies and clean-up efforts developed and recommended by Professor Cherry has been implemented in many areas with groundwater contamination around the world. With groundwater making up 95% of the planet's usable freshwater, and as a major water source for many countries and regions including the United States, Australia, Europe and China, Professor Cherry's advocacy for and contribution to the protection of the world's groundwater resources is truly remarkable and impactful.


Professor Cherry is awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize 2016 for his contributions to scientific understanding, technology advancements and policy influences in groundwater management. A world renowned hydrogeologist, his revolutionary research, in collaboration with international partners, has provided a better scientific framework for groundwater regulators and practitioners to formulate policies and best practices.

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, groundwater research efforts were limited mostly to laboratory-scale studies, primarily because of the complexities and challenges in conducting direct subsurface measurements and observations in actual physical environments. In particular, there was no established science on contaminant hydrogeology – the movement and fate of contaminants in groundwater. Professor Cherry revolutionised groundwater research by developing, through strongly collaborative efforts, innovative field measurement approaches and methods that integrate drilling and subsurface instrumentation with conceptual modelling. In the 1980s, he established the Borden Groundwater Field Research Facility which is used by many researchers internationally to discover major scientific insights about groundwater flow as well as the movement and fate of contaminants in the earth layers. He also stimulated the development of new approaches and technologies to monitor, control and clean-up contaminated groundwater. These findings and insights were influential in convincing policy makers to adopt new conceptualisations for groundwater management and remediation of industrial contamination.

One of the most important insights unearthed by Professor Cherry and his collaborators is the proof that the movement of natural chemical constituents and contaminants in many aquitards (low-permeability, clay-rich zones within the earth that restrict groundwater flow) is diffusion-controlled rather than flow-controlled. Therefore, such aquitards contain groundwater of geologic age that is thousands or even millions of years old. This formed the theoretical basis for a set of benchmark criteria used to select aquitards for the disposal of solid-form, hazardous industrial and nuclear waste, which has been incorporated into regulatory frameworks.

Working with a team of colleagues, Professor Cherry led a major breakthrough in contaminant hydrogeology through field research concerning the unusual behaviour of a group of industrial contaminants known as dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs), which behave differently in the subsurface soil than all other types of contaminants. This resulted in a paradigm shift in groundwater pollution control measures from expectations for complete contaminant removal using the pump-and-treat approach which was excessively expensive and technically ineffective, to strategies for risk management involving contamination control and targeted in situ remediation. In 1993, Professor Cherry was invited to present and answer questions on the effectiveness of pump-and-treat remediation of groundwater to a committee of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. This was part of a process that resulted in new groundwater remediation guidelines and approaches in the United States and other countries, e.g., United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Technical Impracticability waivers and Handbook on DNAPL by ENV UK.

Beyond these research and policy impacts, the scientific framework for clean-up efforts and monitoring approaches recommended by Professor Cherry have been implemented in areas with groundwater contamination worldwide, including those in Canada, the United States, and Brazil, among others. Most recently, he has become a strong advocate for the need to intensely monitor and research the effects on groundwater resources of shale gas exploitation using hydraulic fracking.

In recent years, Professor Cherry has also focused his participation in research on fractured rock, the least understood of all groundwater systems but one that is particularly susceptible to contamination. This is consistent with his career-long focus on identifying and filling knowledge gaps that limit the ability to understand and manage the world’s precious groundwater resources. He is applying his knowledge about fractured rock hydrology and rock drilling to help find safe drinking water supplies to communities in mountainous bedrock regions with limited vehicle access. In addition, Professor Cherry continues to contribute to the scientific community through the mentorship of promising young scientists and engineers; many of whom have gone on to play influential roles in groundwater science globally.

As a leading authority in hydrogeology, Professor Cherry is lauded for his lifelong dedication to the protection of groundwater resources. His advocacy and contributions are truly remarkable and impactful, especially since groundwater constitutes 95% of the usable freshwater on our planet.

About Professor John Anthony Cherry:

Professor John Anthony Cherry is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. He retired from the University of Waterloo in 2006, but continues to conduct research and provide research leadership as the Director of the University Consortium for Field-Focused Groundwater Contamination Research that he established in 1988. An Adjunct Professor at the University of Guelph, he is also the Associate Director of the G360 Centre for Applied Groundwater G360 – The Centre for Groundwater Research.

Professor Cherry has participated in the development of technologies for groundwater monitoring and remediation, and co-holds several patents on this. He has co-authored textbooks and monographs that have very wide impact, including the textbook “Groundwater” with R.A. Freeze (1979) and the book “Dense Chlorinated Solvents and Other DNAPLs in Groundwater” with James Pankow (1996). Professor Cherry was the Chair of the Canadian Council of Academies Expert Panel Report on the ‘Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada’. He has received awards from scientific and engineering societies in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom and an honorary doctorate from the University of Neuchatel. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a Foreign Member of the U.S. Academy of Engineering. His innovative field-based research has created new paradigms and scientific insights that enable decision makers worldwide to formulate more effective groundwater management policies.

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