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Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 13, issue 3
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 583–596, 2013
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-13-583-2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 583–596, 2013
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-13-583-2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 06 Mar 2013

Research article | 06 Mar 2013

Benefits and limitations of data assimilation for discharge forecasting using an event-based rainfall–runoff model

M. Coustau1, S. Ricci2, V. Borrell-Estupina1, C. Bouvier1, and O. Thual2,3 M. Coustau et al.
  • 1Laboratoire HydroSciences Montpellier CNRS-IRD-UM1-UM2 – UMR5569, CC 057, Université Montpellier 2, Maison des Sciences de l'Eau, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
  • 2CERFACS-CNRS – URA1875, 42 avenue G. Coriolis, 31057 Toulouse Cedex, France
  • 3Université de Toulouse, INPT, CNRS, IMFT, 31400 Toulouse, France

Abstract. Mediterranean catchments in southern France are threatened by potentially devastating fast floods which are difficult to anticipate. In order to improve the skill of rainfall-runoff models in predicting such flash floods, hydrologists use data assimilation techniques to provide real-time updates of the model using observational data. This approach seeks to reduce the uncertainties present in different components of the hydrological model (forcing, parameters or state variables) in order to minimize the error in simulated discharges. This article presents a data assimilation procedure, the best linear unbiased estimator (BLUE), used with the goal of improving the peak discharge predictions generated by an event-based hydrological model Soil Conservation Service lag and route (SCS-LR). For a given prediction date, selected model inputs are corrected by assimilating discharge data observed at the basin outlet. This study is conducted on the Lez Mediterranean basin in southern France. The key objectives of this article are (i) to select the parameter(s) which allow for the most efficient and reliable correction of the simulated discharges, (ii) to demonstrate the impact of the correction of the initial condition upon simulated discharges, and (iii) to identify and understand conditions in which this technique fails to improve the forecast skill. The correction of the initial moisture deficit of the soil reservoir proves to be the most efficient control parameter for adjusting the peak discharge. Using data assimilation, this correction leads to an average of 12% improvement in the flood peak magnitude forecast in 75% of cases. The investigation of the other 25% of cases points out a number of precautions for the appropriate use of this data assimilation procedure.

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