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Stefan Söderberg: Focusing on the world’s fresh water

Water, water, everywhere? In a way, yes, but 97 percent of the world's supply is salt water. That means knowing what's happening with the remainder is important.

Water is among the most precious natural resources on the planet. That’s why comprehensive, scientific study of where it is and what’s being done with it is important.

Meet Stefan Söderberg, head of hydrological research at Thomson Reuters. He and his team study the world’s supply of fresh water.

Stefan Soderberg is head of hydrological research and forecast for Thomson Reuters. He is based in Lund, Sweden.
Stefan Soderberg is head of hydrological research and forecast for Thomson Reuters. He is based in Lund, Sweden.

Let’s start with the basics: what’s hydrology?

“Hydrology is the study of the occurrence, distribution, movement and properties of the fresh waters of the earth and their relationship with the environment. This image from the United States Geological Survey nicely captures what’s involved.”

United State Geological Survey Water Cycle
United State Geological Survey Water Cycle

What is your team’s specific area of research?

“We analyze and forecast hydropower production and potential in areas where it plays, or could play, an important role in power generation. When we are to enter a new market, we spend a lot of time researching how the hydrology works in that area and then developing our models for it specifically.”

Are you focused on specific geographies or does your research span the globe?

“We’re interested in all areas of the world where hydropower is an important factor. We are currently covering the entire Nordic region, continental Europe, Turkey, Russia, the western U.S. and Canada, Brazil, India and China — and more regions are in the pipeline!”

How do you conduct your research? Are field studies required?

“Our field studies are visiting clients! It is extremely important for us to meet the users of our data, both to fully understand their needs (which differ quite a lot from market to market) and to explain how to make best use of our forecasts. Most people are not usually very familiar with hydrological concepts”

How are your insights shared with Thomson Reuters clients?

“Eikon is our main tool where we publish all our results. We update it up to 10 times a day with new forecasts, so there are plenty of reasons for users to check in on our pages many times a day. We also spend a lot of time chatting or talking to clients about the results and their questions.”

“When there is a situation of special interest, we write an “Analyst Update” report about it. As an example, we wrote an update about Brazil in the midst of their extreme drought 2015.”

Eikon Nordic
Eikon Nordic

What type of clients are most interested in your work, and how do they use the information?

“Our users are traders on the energy markets all over the world. In order to be able to make decisions in a very competitive market, it’s key to fully understand the current resource situation and what to expect for the short and long future — and also get more accurate numbers before their competitors.”

“For instance, we supply clients with an index called the ‘Hydrological Balance,’ which describes the resource situation for the hydropower sector. Since that sector is all about water, having correct information is key to making good trading decisions.”

Do you work with other parts of Thomson Reuters?

“We are working very closely with the Power team in Oslo. We are also looking into expanding into other areas of interest for Thomson Reuters where we know our competence would be useful. Agriculture and Flood forecasting for the Supply Chain initiative are two sectors where I think we could accomplish a lot. My Hydro team has a unique competence and experience in using high resolution, real-time weather data. Apart from obvious hydrological products, we are also trying to export this knowledge to other teams in Thomson Rreuters where it can be fruitful.”

A view of the lake formed by meltwater from the Pastoruri glacier, as seen from atop the glacier in Huaraz, Peru. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
A view of the lake formed by meltwater from the Pastoruri glacier, as seen from atop the glacier in Huaraz, Peru. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Can you tell us more about the Hydro team?

“I and three others work from Sweden and we have a new team member based in Norway. The team is truly multicultural; two of us are Swedes, we have a woman from France, a man from Pakistan and a woman from China. All of us are very experienced and carry a PhD or MSc in Hydrology or Meteorology. We work very closely together on all of our projects.”

How did you get interested in hydrology and develop your expertise?

“At university, I found the thought of working with something as important as water very fulfilling. When combining it with my programming and modeling interest, it really stood out as something I wanted to build a career in. Then I happened to date and later marry a meteorologist, which didn’t make it worse since the subjects are very related. I can tell you our kids are pretty well-oriented in weather and water matters!”

What do you like most about your role?

“I like the feeling of providing something to our clients that is of utmost interest for them and something they really care about. I also enjoy leading such a strong Hydro team — I truly believe we have the strongest Hydro modeling group in the whole market.”

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about water?

“How scarce it really is. Fresh water in lakes makes up about 0.7 percent  of the world’s water. About 97  percent is saline and not usable for drinking. We better take care of it.”

Lightning strikes over Lake Maracaibo in the village of Congo Mirador, where the Catatumbo River feeds into the lake, in the western state of Zulia, Venezuela. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Lightning strikes over Lake Maracaibo in the village of Congo Mirador, where the Catatumbo River feeds into the lake, in the western state of Zulia, Venezuela. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

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