Professor Mary C Hill

Mary C. Hill
  • Professor
  • PI of NSF FEWtures project, $2.5M, 2019-2025.
  • Professor
  • Geology


Mary C. Hill is a professor of Geology at the University of Kansas, Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and member of the National Academy of Engineering. Professor Hill graduated from Hope College in Holland Michigan in 1976 with AB degrees in Business Administration and Geology, and spent a year at Michigan State University in Civil Engineering. She received her PhD in Civil Engineering – Water Resources from Princeton University in 1987 and was a Hydrologist with the USGS from 1981-2014 in New Jersey and then Colorado, achieving the level of GS-16, the highest level a scientist can reach in the US government. At the USGS she used the very popular model MODFLOW to focus on computer modeling of groundwater and groundwater-surface-water hydrologic systems, integration of models and data, and quantification of prediction uncertainty. Since 2014 at KU, Prof. Hill has focused on the integration of science and policy, with an emphasis on creating an environmentally and economically sustainable future for people on earth. To this end, she has worked to add associated human systems such as agriculture and renewable energy development to models and decision support systems. She has worked with very talented students to link data sets from these fields to create visualization software and applications (DiscoverFramework, DiscoverWater and DiscoverHABs) and agriculture-energy-water decision support (FEWCalc). She focuses largely on the food, energy, water (FEW) nexus. Prof. Hill is PI of the $2.5M NSF FEWtures project that combines staff from KU and KSU to focus on the technical, economic, and adoption feasibility of two opportunities of using local renewable energy to support local rural economies and communities and reduce carbon emissions. The two opportunities are local treatment and use of contaminated water, including produced water from oil and gas development, and local production of green ammonia. Preliminary results suggest water treatment is likely to be economically feasible in limited circumstances, while local production of green ammonia appears to hold promise in establishing a prosperous, sustainable future for rural areas.


Civil Engineering-Water Resources, Princeton University, 1985
Civil Engineering - Water Resources, Princeton University, 1978
Geology and Business Administration (double major), Hope College, 1976


At KU I seek ways to enable people to understand the environment upon which their lives and livelihoods depend. I do this by working with students and colleagues to visualize data and models in new ways that take advantage of widely accessible devices such as tablets and cell phones. I also explore how to clearly show economic opportunities provided by sustainable use of natural resources, with a focus on food, energy and water issues in rural areas.

Research interests:

  • uncertainty analysis
  • numerical modeling
  • risk
  • sensitivity analysis
  • hydrogeology
  • visualization
  • food, energy, water nexus
  • economics


Courses taught since joining KU HON 120 Honors Seminar Food, Energy, Water, the Environment, and Public Policy -- Opportunities and Tradeoffs (F15, F16, F17, F18) GEOL 591/791 Food, Energy, Water, the Environment, and Public Policy -- Opportunities, Tradeoffs, and Analysis using ABM and ML (S22) GEOL 171 Earthquakes and Natural Disasters (F16, S17, F17, S18, S19, F21) GEOL 751/CEAE 752 Physical Hydrogeology (F17, F18, F19) GEOL 758/CEAE 731 Applied Groundwater Modeling (S15, S16, S17, S18, S19,S23) GEOL 591/791 Inverse Modeling in Geophysics and Hydrogeology (F15, F16) GEOL Graduate student seminar (F14)

Teaching interests:

  • Interactive teaching
  • Empower students
  • Build skills and knowledge

Selected Publications

Phetheet, J., Hill, M., Barron, R., Gray, B., Wu, H., Amanor-Boadu, V., Heger, W., Kisekka, I., Golden, B., Rossi, M. (2021). Relating agriculture, energy, and water decisions to farm incomes and climate projections using two freeware programs, FEWCalc and DSSAT. Agricultural Systems - Volume 193.
Porter, M., Hill, M., Harris, T., Brookfield, A., Li, X. (2021). The DiscoverFramework freeware toolkit for multivariate spatio-temporal environmental data visualization and evaluation. Environmental Modelling and Software - Volume 143.
Tonkin, M., Hill, M., Maxwell, R., Zheng, C. (2020). Groundwater Modeling and Beyond: MODFLOW‐and‐More ‐2019 Special Issue. Ground Water - Issue 3 | Volume 58.
Barron, R., Hill, M. (2019). A wedge or a weight? Critically examining nuclear power’s viability as a low carbon energy source from an intergenerational perspective. Energy Research & Social Science - Volume 50.
Gil, Y., Pierce, S., Babaie, H., Banerjee, A., Borne, K., Bust, G., Cheatham, M., Ebert-Uphoff, I., Gomes, C., Hill, M., Horel, J., Hsu, L., Kinter, J., Knoblock, C., Krum, D., Kumar, V., Lermusiaux, P., Liu, Y., North, C., Pankratius, V. (2018). Intelligent systems for geosciences: an essential research agenda. Communications of the ACM - Issue 1 | Volume 62.
Brookfield, A., Hill, M., Rodell, M., Loomis, B., Stotler, R., Porter, M., Bohling, G. (2018). In Situ and GRACE‐Based Groundwater Observations: Similarities, Discrepancies, and Evaluation in the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas. Water Resources Research - Issue 10 | Volume 54.
Borgonovo, E., Lu, X., Plischke, E., Rakovec, O., Hill, M. (2017). Making the most out of a hydrological model data set: Sensitivity analyses to open the model black-box: ANALYSES TO OPEN THE MODEL BLACK-BOX. Water Resources Research - Issue 9 | Volume 53.
Hill, M. (2017). An update of the Death Valley regional groundwater flow system transient model, Nevada and California.
La Vigna, F., Hill, M., Rossetto, R., Mazza, R. (2016). Parameterization, sensitivity analysis, and inversion: an investigation using groundwater modeling of the surface-mined Tivoli-Guidonia basin (Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy) (Paramétrage, analyse de sensibilité et inversion: une étude utilisant la modélisation des eaux souterraines du bassin de Tivoli-Guidonia (Métropole de Rome, Italie) avec une exploitation du sous-sol / Parametrización, análisis de sensibilidad e inversión: una investigación utilizando modelos de agua subterránea de la cuenca con minería de superficie del Tivoli-Guidonia (Ciudad Metropolitana de Roma, Italia) / 参数化、灵敏度分析和反演:采用地下水模拟对(意大利罗马市)露天开采的Tivoli-Guidonia盆地进行调查 / Parametrização, análise de sensibilidade e inversão: uma investigação utilizando modelagem de águas subterrâneas da bacia superficialmente mineirada Tivoli-Guidonia (Cidade Metropolitana de Roma, Itália)). Hydrogeology Journal - Issue 6 | Volume 24.
Hill, M. (2016). Groundwater modelling of the surface-mined Tivoli-Guidonia basin (Rome) and lessons for model development design.
Sheets, R., Hill, M., Haitjema, H., Provost, A., Masterson, J. (2015). Simulation of Water-Table Aquifers Using Specified Saturated Thickness. Ground Water - Issue 1 | Volume 53.
Lu, D., Ye, M., Hill, M., Poeter, E., Curtis, G. (2014). A computer program for uncertainty analysis integrating regression and Bayesian methods. Environmental Modelling and Software - Volume 60.
Rakovec, O., Hill, M., Clark, M., Weerts, A., Teuling, A., Uijlenhoet, R. (2014). Distributed Evaluation of Local Sensitivity Analysis (DELSA), with application to hydrologic models: Distributed evaluation of local sensitivity analysis. Water Resources Research - Issue 1 | Volume 50.
Hill, M. (2014). UCODE_2014, with new capabilities to define parameters unique to predictions, calculate weights using simulated values, estimate parameters with SVD, evaluate uncertainty with MCMC, and more.
Borsi, I., Rossetto, R., Schifani, C., Hill, M. (2013). Modeling unsaturated zone flow and runoff processes by integrating MODFLOW-LGR and VSF, and creating the new CFL package. Journal of Hydrology - Volume 488.
Foglia, L., Mehl, S., Hill, M., Burlando, P. (2013). Evaluating model structure adequacy: The case of the Maggia Valley groundwater system, southern Switzerland: Evaluating Model Structure Adequacy. Water Resources Research - Issue 1 | Volume 49.
Laniak, G., Olchin, G., Goodall, J., Voinov, A., Hill, M., Glynn, P., Whelan, G., Geller, G., Quinn, N., Blind, M., Peckham, S., Reaney, S., Gaber, N., Kennedy, R., Hughes, A. (2013). Integrated environmental modeling: A vision and roadmap for the future. Environmental Modelling and Software - Volume 39.
Hill, M., Faunt, C., Belcher, W., Sweetkind, D., Tiedeman, C., Kavetski, D. (2013). Knowledge, transparency, and refutability in groundwater models, an example from the Death Valley regional groundwater flow system. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A-B-C - Volume 64.
Hill, M. (2012). Uncertainty Quantification for Environmental Models. SIAM News.
Foglia, L., Hill, M., Mehl, S., Burlando, P. (2009). Sensitivity analysis, calibration, and testing of a distributed hydrological model using error-based weighting and one objective function: HYDROLOGICAL MODEL CALIBRATION. Water Resources Research - Issue 6 | Volume 45.
Banta, E., Hill, M., Poeter, E., Doherty, J., Babendreier, J. (2008). Building model analysis applications with the Joint Universal Parameter IdenTification and Evaluation of Reliability (JUPITER) API. Computers and Geosciences - Issue 4 | Volume 34.

Selected Presentations

Using Local Energy to Complete the Agricultural Nitrogen Cycle in a Wind-Energy-Rich, Limited-Transmission Region - Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering - Power and Energy Systems (IEEE-PES). Location: Portland, OR, USA. (8-04-2018).
Uncertainty in the prediction of erosion on geologic time scales - 96th International Conference on Environmental Modeling and Software "Modeling for Sustainable Food, Energy, Water Systems". Location: Fort Collins CO. (6-01-2018).
A Nuclear Waste Management Cost Model for Policy Analysis - American Geophysical Union. Location: New Orleans, LA. (12-11-2017).
Building Bridges Between Geoscience and Data Science through Benchmark Data Sets - American Geophysical Union (AGU). Location: New Orleans, LA. (12-11-2017).
Developing Community-Focused Solutions using a Food-Energy-Water Calculator, with Initial Application to Western Kansas - American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. Location: New Orleans, LA. (12-11-2017).
Formulating qualitative features using interactive visualization for analysis of multivariate spatio-temporal data - American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. Location: New Orleans, LA. (12-11-2017).
A Food-Energy-Water Calculator, with application to Western Kansas - Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineering - Power and Energy Systems (IEEE-PES). Location: Chicago, IL. (7-19-2017).
Integrating models that depend on variable data - American Geophysical Union. Location: San Franciso, CA. (12-01-2016).
Making Earth-human system modeling easier and more interesting - American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. Location: San Franciso, CA. (12-01-2016).
Using the Landlab toolkit to evaluate and compare alternative geomorphic and hydrologic model formulations (Invited) - American Geophysical Union. Location: San Franciso, CA. (12-01-2016).
Integrating Many Data Types into Optimized Inverse Modeling: An Example from Hydrology - American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. Location: San Franciso, CA. (12-01-2015).
Teaching Freshmen About Water, Energy, Food, the Environment, and Public Policy in an Interactive Classroom - American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. Location: San Franciso, CA. (12-01-2015).
Testing Predictive Skill of Groundwater Flow and Transport Simulations - American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. (12-01-2014).
Using a three-dimensional hydrogeologic framework to investigate potential sources of springs in the Death Valley regional groundwater flow system - Technical Presentation, AGU. (12-01-2014).
Using a three-dimensional geologic framework to investigate a curious modeling result for the death valley regional groundwater flow system - Technical Presentation, GSA. (10-01-2014).
Using a three-dimensional hydrogeologic framework to investigate potential sources of springs in the Death Valley regional ground water flow system - Technical Presentation, Midwest Groundwater Meeting. (9-01-2014).
Exploring how parameter importance to prediction change in parameter space - Technical Presentation, SIAM. (4-01-2014).
Exploring how parameter importance to prediction changes in parameter space - Poster, CSDMS. (4-01-2014).
A New Computationally Frugal Method for Sensitivity Analysis of Environmental Models - Technical Presentation, AGU. (12-01-2013).
Evaluating Processes, Parameters and Observations Using Cross Validation and Computationally Frugal Sensitivity Analysis Methods - Technical Presentation, AGU. (12-01-2013).
What can decision makers achieve from computer simulations of environmental systems? - Technical Presentation, AGU. (1-01-2013).
Evaluating model structure adequacy: The case of the Maggia Valley, southern Switzerland and consequences for simulating coupled hydrologic models - Technical Presentation, GSA. (10-01-2013).


I seek to (1) expand quantitative aspects and synthesize the strengths of the environmental side of the Department of Geology, (2) bring broad recognition to the very talented faculty in the Department of Geology, and (3) build an earth-science based program focused on a resilient future, with participation by KU public affairs and administration, business administration, political science, and the law school and KSU Agricultural Economics, Electrical Engineering and Computer science, and the Business School.