Doctor Clare Stephens

Clare StephensI’m an environmental engineer with key research interests in ecohydrology and landscape evolution under climate change. My PhD at UNSW focussed on the vulnerability of hydrologic models to climate change, examining whether conventional modelling tools can be used to accurately predict future water resource availability. These models have limited physical realism and rely heavily on calibration to historical observations, so they cannot account for changes in underlying rainfall-runoff mechanisms. To address the problem, I worked with several hydrologic models with varying levels of complexity, including a state-of-the-art ecohydrologic model. I have also undertaken research in hydroclimatic change, international water partnerships and humanitarian engineering. Prior to my PhD, I worked as a surface water engineer in a large consulting company for four years.

My interest in ecohydrology developed during my PhD, as it became clear to me that future water cycle changes would be substantially controlled by vegetation dynamics. Collaborating with researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of California Riverside, I began modelling the interplay between climate, water and plants to understand the implications for water resources. I became increasingly fascinated by these complex processes, which I hope to investigate further through my position at HIE.

Areas of research/teaching expertise

My current research focus is on ecohydrology, particularly climate-vegetation-water interactions under global warming. Most of my past research has involved creative application of models to address difficult problems in hydrology, particularly in relation to future climate change. In addition, I recently investigated changes in atmospheric evaporative demand across Australia. I have reviewed reported shifts in landscape-water dynamics globally and hydroclimatic changes in the Pacific region. At UNSW, I lectured in urban hydrology at the Masters level.


I’m passionate about communicating research with non-academic audiences, and have given talks at several community events including for the NSW Soroptimists, the UNSW Climate Change Network and several Westpac events. I’ve also written accessible articles for:

Guardian Labs - What you might not realise about the flow-on effects of climate change (opens in a new window)

Allianz Climate Risk Research Award essay compendium - A glimpse of tomorrow: How the consequences of climate change are already evident and how they can be tackled (opens in a new window)

OzEWEX blog:

I am currently the chair of the Young Hydrologic Society blog committee, and a member of their board.

  • 2019 National Council of Women NSW Australia Day Award
  • 2018 Best Presentation by a Young Professional (Hydrology and Water Resources Symposium)
  • 2015 Young Environmental Engineer of the Year (Engineers Australia)
  • 2021/22 Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholarship
  • 2019 Engineering Faculty Postdoctoral Writing Fellowship, UNSW
  • 2018 SWGEN Travel Stipend
  • 2016/17 OzEWEX Summer Institute Scholarship
  • 2016 Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship

Stephens CM, Band LE, Johnson FM, Marshall LA, Medlyn BE, De Kauwe MG, Ukkola AM, (2023) 'Changes in Blue/Green Water Partitioning Under Severe Drought', Water Resources Research, vol.59, no.11, Article no.e2022WR033449

Fowler K, Peel M, Saft M, Peterson TJ, Western A, Band L, Petheram C, Dharmadi S, Tan KS, Zhang L, Lane P, Kiem A, Marshall L, Griebel A, Medlyn BE, Ryu D, Bonotto G, Wasko C, Ukkola A, Stephens C, Frost A, Weligamage HG, Saco P, Zheng HX, Chiew F, Daly E, Walker G, Vervoort RW, Hughes J, Trotter L, Neal B, Cartwright I, Nathan R, (2022) 'Explaining changes in rainfall-runoff relationships during and after Australia's Millennium Drought: a community perspective', Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, vol.26, no.23, pp 6073-6120

Stephens CM, Marshall LA, Johnson FM, Ajami H, Lin L, Band LE, (2022) 'Spatial Variation in Catchment Response to Climate Change Depends on Lateral Moisture Transport and Nutrient Dynamics', Water Resources Research, vol.58, no.10, Article no.e2021WR030577

Johnson F, Higgins P, Stephens C, (2021) 'Climate change and hydrological risk in the Pacific: a Humanitarian Engineering perspective', Journal of Water and Climate Change, vol.12, no.3, pp 647-678

Stephens CM, Lall U, Johnson FM, Marshall LA, (2021) 'Landscape changes and their hydrologic effects: Interactions and feedbacks across scales', Earth-Science Reviews, vol.212, Article 103466

Stephens CM, Marshall LA, Johnson FM, Lin L, Band LE, Ajami H, (2020) 'Is Past Variability a Suitable Proxy for Future Change? A Virtual Catchment Experiment', Water Resources Research, vol.56, no.2, e2019WR026275

Stephens CM, Marshall LA, Johnson FM, (2019) 'Investigating strategies to improve hydrologic model performance in a changing climate', Journal of Hydrology, vol.579, Article 124219

Stephens CM, Johnson FM, Marshall LA, (2018) 'Implications of future climate change for event-based hydrologic models', Advances in Water Resources, vol.119, pp 95-110

Stephens CM, McVicar TR, Johnson FM, Marshall LA, (2018) 'Revisiting Pan Evaporation Trends in Australia a Decade on', Geophysical Research Letters, vol.45, no.20, pp 11,164-11,172