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Obituary: Dr James (Jim) Ascough III

A tribute in memory of Dr. James (Jim) C. Ascough II

Timothy R.Green, Olaf David, Holger R.Maier

This is a tribute to Dr. Jim Ascough, who was an enthusiastic member, officer and medalist of the International Environmental Modelling & Software Society (iEMSs). Sadly, Jim died of a heart attack on 1 December 2016. This shocked his family, friends and colleagues, who knew Jim as an active person who rarely lacked energy for any endeavor. Jim is survived by his wife, Dr. Lois Deer-Ascough (Deer-Ascough et al., 1995; Ascough et al., 1998), son TJ (age 22) and daughter Katie (age 18).

Outside of work, Jim was fully engaged as a husband and father, who expressed his love to his family in words and actions. Even during the work day, it was not uncommon to hear Jim talking on the phone to one of his kids or his wife. He was an active participant in their school and athletic activities, even coaching soccer and playing tennis with his children. The family took vacations together, attended church regularly, and participated in many outdoor activities, like hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

Jim was also an avid cyclist. He regularly commuted to work. Some days, he would extend the morning commute of ∼10 km into a longer ride into the hills, just for the fun of it. He was known to invite colleagues and friends to commute to or from work, or even to lunch. This usually became a race with Jim out front. Jim played tennis well and enjoyed sports in general. Nothing seemed to stop him, until his final breath. Thus we are reminded that our life here can be short and is always precious.

Dr. Ascough had broad knowledge of Environmental Models, Agricultural Systems, Hydraulics (his official title was Research Hydraulic Engineer) and Economics, including various computational tools and software associate with these fields of study and application. Consequently, Jim was eager to collaborate broadly, and he exemplified bringing people together.

Jim had over 150 co-authors, illustrating the breadth of his research network internationally. Most of his career was spent with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in a Systems Research Unit in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. In Jim’s early career at the ARS National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory, he worked on the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP hillslope and watershed models (Ascough et al., 1997)). That early collaborative experience expanded into crop growth and phenology models, root zone hydrology and nutrient cycling, agricultural decision support systems, agricultural economic assessments, model uncertainty and sensitivity analyses, environmental modeling frameworks, “big data” services (before it became fashionable) and even some cloud computing.

Of Jim’s more than 110 publications, seven were co-authored in 2016, and two were published post-mortem in 2017 (Nguyen et al., 2017; Fathelrahman et al., 2017). Significantly, we counted 20 iEMSs proceedings papers going back to 2006, for example (Ascough et al., 2010a, 2010b, 2012a, 2012b, 2014a, 2014b; Maier et al., 2006), not including abstracts, plus 6 MODSIM/IMACS conference papers (e.g., Ascough et al., 2005, 2009). These publications are evidence of his contributions and activity in the Society. In addition, he attended seven iEMSs congresses and organized multiple sessions and workshops. He served as the society’s Vice President, was on the Board of Directors, and was awarded the 2014 Biennial Medal. Jim was also an active member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, as well as other professional organizations.

As a side note, publications attributed to J.C. Ascough go back to 1962 (Ascough and Dana, 1962) when Jim was a young child! Jim’s father, Dr. James C. Ascough Sr., published multiple papers in psychology journals, which connect Jim with his scholarly lineage and family heritage.

This is a brief tribute to the person, not a curriculum vitae nor a full obituary. Suffice to say that Jim left a huge gap. Literally, Dr. Ascough’s office and research position at ARS remain vacant to this day.

It seems fitting that our next iEMSs Congress will be in Jim’s home town of Fort Collins, Colorado. Therefore, this written tribute will culminate in the Society raising our glasses and remembering Jim together at the meeting in June 2018.