Obituary | Xun-Hong Chen

Hong Chen
Hong Chen

Xun-Hong "Hong" Chen, 57, professor of hydrogeology, died Oct. 22. Chen was part of UNL's School of Natural Resources.

"Hong was an outstanding researcher and colleague," said SNR director John Carroll. "He helped put groundwater modeling at UNL on the map and was an expert on the High Plains Aquifer. Hong will be missed by his many friends and colleagues in the School of Natural Resources."

Ron Yoder, IANR associate vice chancellor, said that Chen's groundwater research and modeling contributed significantly to the nationally and internationally recognized water resources management in Nebraska.

"His extensive knowledge was valued by the water resources agencies in Nebraska, and he was respected by his students, who received a sound education in groundwater science," Yoder said. "He was a great colleague, and his many friends in the water management community will miss working with him."

Born Aug. 20, 1958, to Zhangcheng and Meimei Chen in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, China, he earned an undergraduate degree from Zhejiang University. He was awarded a master's degree from California State University, Northridge and a doctorate from the University of Wyoming.

He began his career as a consulting hydrogeologist at TriHydro Corporation in Laramie, Wyoming.

In 1994, he moved from Wyoming to Nebraska to accept a position as an assistant professor with the Conservation and Survey Division at UNL. He became a full professor with the School of Natural Resources in 2005.

"I knew Hong from the time he arrived at UNL in late 1994 until his passing," said Bob Diffendal, emeritus professor. "He was a kind, wonderful friend and colleague."

Chen's work involved the analysis of groundwater systems and their interactions with streams. His research used computer models to better understand how water flows, some of which explored how groundwater irrigation affects groundwater storage and stream depletion.

"Hong was a widely respected colleague who contributed in a substantive way to an improved understanding of groundwater in Nebraska," said Matt Joeckel, CSD director and Nebraska state geologist. "His scientific expertise was widely sought-after in research endeavors and his professional reputation was sterling, even on an international level."

Chen's research also focused on the hydraulic properties of aquifers and streambed sediments. His research group conducted numerous pumping tests in the High Plains Aquifer, and his recent work explored the hydrologic cycle in the Nebraska Sandhills, the Platte and Republican River valleys, and the Blue River and Elkhorn River basins.

"Dr. Chen made significant contributions in studies of groundwater-surface water interactions, characterization of aquifer properties, and evaluation of groundwater resources of Nebraska," said Vitaly Zlotnik, professor in UNL's Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences. "His list of more than a hundred papers includes many important and well-respected publications in leading disciplinary journals. He will be missed by his colleagues in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences."

Chen was an internationally recognized research scholar and collaborated with universities and research institutes across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

"As a Yangtze River Scholar and Thousand Talents Program professor, the most prestigious national awards in China, professor Chen dedicated himself to promoting international collaborations between UNL and top Chinese universities," said Jian Ma, president of Chang'an University. "His meticulous scholarship and pursuit of excellence will continue to inspire us. He will be missed greatly by his colleagues and students in China."

Chen served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Hydrology and Hydrogeology Journal. He was a member of the American Geophysics Union, an elected fellow of the Geological Society of America, and a fellow of UNL's Center for Great Plains Studies.

Chen regularly taught groundwater modeling and geostatistics courses, and advised dozens of students. Many of his former graduate students have successful professional careers in hydrogeology and other areas of earth sciences.

"Dr. Chen was a meticulous and dedicated scientist and educator," said Gengxin Ou, a former student who is now a hydrologist at the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. "He cared for his students like family members. I never felt alone even though I was far away from home. He will never be forgotten."

Zhaowei Wang, a hydrogeologist and groundwater modeler at Arcadis, studied under Chen from 2010 to 2012.

"Dr. Chen was a great mentor and role model for me," Wang said. "His passing is a tremendous loss to his family, friends and the hydrogeology community. He is always in my heart and will be remembered forever."

Chen was preceded in death by his father Zhangcheng. Survivors include Chen's wife, Wen Zhao; sons, William and Lucas.

Visitation will take place from 1-3 p.m., Oct. 29 at Roper and Sons in Lincoln (4300 O Street). In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Half the Sky organization:

— Mekita Rivas, Natural Resources