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Alabama Water Institute


AWI History

The University of Alabama’s process to become the epicenter of water research began in June 2011 when the Board of Trustees approved two resolutions to build the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Water Center on campus. The NWC’s construction was completed in December 2013 and officially opened for operations in May 2015.

The collaborative hydrology research ties between UA and the federal government were strengthened in February 2017 when the Alabama Water Institute was established by UA’s Board of Trustees. The AWI’s mission was to encompass activities of existing research at UA and to expand future UA expertise in water-related research and integrate educational efforts. As part of the institute’s founding, several water research centers were also placed under its umbrella: Center for Complex Hydrosystems Research, Center for Freshwater Studies, Center for Sedimentary Basin Studies, Center for Water Quality Research, and Remote Sensing Center.

The AWI’s first executive director was Dr. Patricia Sobecky, who was then UA’s associate provost for academic affairs and professor of biological sciences. Sobecky laid the groundwork for collaboration with NOAA and the NWC, as well as helped make UA a part of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, or UCAR, a national organization focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences.

Part of the UA Strategic Plan is to increase the University’s productivity and innovation in research, scholarship, and creative activities that impact economic and societal development. In accordance with UA’s research objectives, Sobecky and the AWI made collaborative and interdisciplinary water-related research a top priority. The AWI strives to strengthen these efforts by providing funding and support for affiliated faculty members and researchers.

Sobecky stepped down as the AWI executive director and was succeeded by Scott Rayder in August 2020. Rayder joined the institute from UCAR where he served as senior advisor to the organization, as well as to the president and vice president of the UCAR Foundation. Previously, Rayder was chief of staff at NOAA.

Rayder also brought in Michael Gremillion, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and experienced weather professional in the military and intelligence communities, to create and lead UA’s Global Water Security Center and serve as the AWI deputy director in September 2020. With their experience and relationships with various academic, federal, state, and private organizations, they began to increase UA’s standing as a leader in water research, education, and practice.

Under Rayder’s leadership, the AWI was influential in bringing the U.S. Geological Survey’s new Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility to UA’s campus, which construction is slated to be complete at the end of 2023. With a goal of continuous growth, UA will also soon host a new high performance computing facility on campus that will attract the best and brightest researchers and students.

In April 2022, UA was awarded the $360 million NOAA Cooperative Institute for Research to Operations in Hydrology, or CIROH, the largest external award in the University’s history. CIROH is headquartered at the AWI and consists of a consortium of 28 academic institutions, non-profit organizations and government and industry partners bringing together a powerful team of hydrologic researchers across the United States and Canada. With CIROH, UA is poised to become a standard bearer in translating water research into operations that improve the nation’s ability to predict water-related hazards and effectively manage water resources.

In September 2022, Rayder stepped down from his role as the AWI executive director. Gremillion was named as the interim while a national search is underway as of May 2023.

As the AWI continues to grow, so do the opportunities to connect and support various agencies, researchers, and groups. The AWI taps into many areas, from its Cultural and Water Resources Preservation office that helps meet the needs of Indigenous groups and underserved communities across the nation, to educational outreach in K-12 schools to help students discover the pathways to becoming the next generation of scientists that will provide working, novel solutions for a more water-secure world.

AWI Strategic Plan


To both carry out cutting edge and applied research and to train the next generation of scientists to provide actionable, novel solutions for a more water-secure world.


To be internationally recognized as a world-class, multidisciplinary water research institute that provides interdisciplinary knowledge and solutions for critical water problems and issues


Research Environment — AWI will promote cross-disciplinary, collaborative water research efforts and enhance strategic communications with campus and external stakeholders.

Alabama Research Institutes — AWI will encourage collaboration within existing institutes and centers; look toward development of new water-related centers; and foster water-related research for Alabama’s rural and underserved communities.

Transformative Initiatives — AWI will seek research partnerships with other research universities, both domestic and international and will establish an external advisory board.

Translating Intellectual Property — AWI will encourage faculty and students to pursue patents, commercialization and licensing of their research.

Economic and Business Engagement — AWI will encourage faculty and students to pursue startups, business partnerships, and community use of their research.

Strategic Research Themes

Because we live in a complex world, humans believe the future generations will discover solutions that do not have to be addressed today and can be left for tomorrow. Our vision is that with the right research focus, AWI will be at the center of research to address the “wicked” problems of today and tomorrow. The following key research themes were developed to address the above challenges, build on available resources and talents, and reflect the interdisciplinary water research vision within the University

Modeling and Remote Sensing

Develop and improve modeling and remote sensors to broaden research in water resource management, hazard assessments and communications.

Integrated Water Resource Assessment

Develop basic understanding needed to inform programs and policies to reduce impact on water quantity, water quality, threatened and endangered species, health and ecosystem function.

Managements of Water Hazards

Develop and improve predictive tools that reduce risk and increase resilience of agricultural, industrial, public water supplies and natural ecosystems to stressors.

Water Security and Risk Communication

Create research opportunities to communicate water, science and risks impacts on society.