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A comparison of methods for streamflow uncertainty estimation


Abstract

Streamflow time series are commonly derived from stage-discharge rating curves, but theuncertainty of the rating curve and resulting streamflow series are poorly understood. While differentmethods to quantify uncertainty in the stage-discharge relationship exist, there is limited understanding ofhow uncertainty estimates differ between methods due to different assumptions and methodologicalchoices. We compared uncertainty estimates and stage-discharge rating curves from seven methods at threeriver locations of varying hydraulic complexity. Comparison of the estimated uncertainties revealed a widerange of estimates, particularly for high and low flows. At the simplest site on the Isère River (France), fullwidth 95% uncertainties for the different methods ranged from 3 to 17% for median flows. In contrast,uncertainties were much higher and ranged from 41 to 200% for high flows in an extrapolated section of therating curve at the Mahurangi River (New Zealand) and 28 to 101% for low flows at the Taf River (UnitedKingdom), where the hydraulic control is unstable at low flows. Differences between methods result fromdifferences in the sources of uncertainty considered, differences in the handling of the time-varying nature ofrating curves, differences in the extent of hydraulic knowledge assumed, and differences in assumptionswhen extrapolating rating curves above or below the observed gaugings. Ultimately, the selection of anuncertainty method requires a match between user requirements and the assumptions made by theuncertainty method. Given the signi ficant differences in uncertainty estimates between methods, we suggestthat a clear statement of uncertainty assumptions be presented alongside streamflow uncertainty estimates.

Abstract

Streamflow time series are commonly derived from stage-discharge rating curves, but theuncertainty of the rating curve and resulting streamflow series are poorly understood. While differentmethods to quantify uncertainty in the stage-discharge relationship exist, there is limited understanding ofhow uncertainty estimates differ between methods due to different assumptions and methodologicalchoices. We compared uncertainty estimates and stage-discharge rating curves from seven methods at threeriver locations of varying hydraulic complexity. Comparison of the estimated uncertainties revealed a widerange of estimates, particularly for high and low flows. At the simplest site on the Isère River (France), fullwidth 95% uncertainties for the different methods ranged from 3 to 17% for median flows. In contrast,uncertainties were much higher and ranged from 41 to 200% for high flows in an extrapolated section of therating curve at the Mahurangi River (New Zealand) and 28 to 101% for low flows at the Taf River (UnitedKingdom), where the hydraulic control is unstable at low flows. Differences between methods result fromdifferences in the sources of uncertainty considered, differences in the handling of the time-varying nature ofrating curves, differences in the extent of hydraulic knowledge assumed, and differences in assumptionswhen extrapolating rating curves above or below the observed gaugings. Ultimately, the selection of anuncertainty method requires a match between user requirements and the assumptions made by theuncertainty method. Given the signi ficant differences in uncertainty estimates between methods, we suggestthat a clear statement of uncertainty assumptions be presented alongside streamflow uncertainty estimates.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Uncontrolled Keywords:Water Science and Technology
Language:English
Date:2 October 2018
Deposited On:30 Oct 2018 15:19
Last Modified:22 Nov 2018 02:05
Publisher:American Geophysical Union
ISSN:0043-1397
Additional Information:Copyright 2018 American Geophysical Union
OA Status:Green
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1029/2018wr022708

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