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Bayesian estimation of extreme flood quantiles using a rainfall-runoff model and a stochastic daily rainfall generator

Costa, Veber, Fernandes, Wilson
Journal of hydrology 2017 v.554 pp. 137-154
Bayesian theory, autocorrelation, floods, heteroskedasticity, hydrologic models, probabilistic models, rain, regression analysis, rivers, runoff, stream flow, time series analysis, uncertainty, watersheds, California
Extreme flood estimation has been a key research topic in hydrological sciences. Reliable estimates of such events are necessary as structures for flood conveyance are continuously evolving in size and complexity and, as a result, their failure-associated hazards become more and more pronounced. Due to this fact, several estimation techniques intended to improve flood frequency analysis and reducing uncertainty in extreme quantile estimation have been addressed in the literature in the last decades. In this paper, we develop a Bayesian framework for the indirect estimation of extreme flood quantiles from rainfall-runoff models. In the proposed approach, an ensemble of long daily rainfall series is simulated with a stochastic generator, which models extreme rainfall amounts with an upper-bounded distribution function, namely, the 4-parameter lognormal model. The rationale behind the generation model is that physical limits for rainfall amounts, and consequently for floods, exist and, by imposing an appropriate upper bound for the probabilistic model, more plausible estimates can be obtained for those rainfall quantiles with very low exceedance probabilities. Daily rainfall time series are converted into streamflows by routing each realization of the synthetic ensemble through a conceptual hydrologic model, the Rio Grande rainfall-runoff model. Calibration of parameters is performed through a nonlinear regression model, by means of the specification of a statistical model for the residuals that is able to accommodate autocorrelation, heteroscedasticity and nonnormality. By combining the outlined steps in a Bayesian structure of analysis, one is able to properly summarize the resulting uncertainty and estimating more accurate credible intervals for a set of flood quantiles of interest. The method for extreme flood indirect estimation was applied to the American river catchment, at the Folsom dam, in the state of California, USA. Results show that most floods, including exceptionally large non-systematic events, were reasonably estimated with the proposed approach. In addition, by accounting for uncertainties in each modeling step, one is able to obtain a better understanding of the influential factors in large flood formation dynamics.