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A probabilistic method for streamflow projection and associated uncertainty analysis in a data sparse alpine region

Ren, Weiwei, Yang, Tao, Shi, Pengfei, Xu, Chong-yu, Zhang, Ke, Zhou, Xudong, Shao, Quanxi, Ciais, Philippe
Global and planetary change 2018 v.165 pp. 100-113
climate, climate change, climate models, hydrologic cycle, hydrologic data, hydrologic models, neural networks, planning, probabilistic models, runoff, stream flow, topography, uncertainty analysis, water resources, water security, watersheds, Central Asia
Climate change imposes profound influence on regional hydrological cycle and water security in many alpine regions worldwide. Investigating regional climate impacts using watershed scale hydrological models requires a large number of input data such as topography, meteorological and hydrological data. However, data scarcity in alpine regions seriously restricts evaluation of climate change impacts on water cycle using conventional approaches based on global or regional climate models, statistical downscaling methods and hydrological models. Therefore, this study is dedicated to development of a probabilistic model to replace the conventional approaches for streamflow projection. The probabilistic model was built upon an advanced Bayesian Neural Network (BNN) approach directly fed by the large-scale climate predictor variables and tested in a typical data sparse alpine region, the Kaidu River basin in Central Asia. Results show that BNN model performs better than the general methods across a number of statistical measures. The BNN method with flexible model structures by active indicator functions, which reduce the dependence on the initial specification for the input variables and the number of hidden units, can work well in a data limited region. Moreover, it can provide more reliable streamflow projections with a robust generalization ability. Forced by the latest bias-corrected GCM scenarios, streamflow projections for the 21st century under three RCP emission pathways were constructed and analyzed. Briefly, the proposed probabilistic projection approach could improve runoff predictive ability over conventional methods and provide better support to water resources planning and management under data limited conditions as well as enable a facilitated climate change impact analysis on runoff and water resources in alpine regions worldwide.