Flood and drought hydrologic monitoring: The role of model parameter uncertainty

N. W. Chaney, J. D. Herman, P. M. Reed, Eric F. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Land surface modeling, in conjunction with numerical weather forecasting and satellite remote sensing, is playing an increasing role in global monitoring and prediction of extreme hydrologic events (i.e., floods and droughts). However, uncertainties in the meteorological forcings, model structure, and parameter identifiability limit the reliability of model predictions. This study focuses on the latter by assessing two potential weaknesses that emerge due to limitations in our global runoff observations: (1) the limits of identifying model parameters at coarser timescales than those at which the extreme events occur, and (2) the negative impacts of not properly accounting for model parameter equifinality in the predictions of extreme events. To address these challenges, petascale parallel computing is used to perform the first global-scale, 10 000 member ensemble-based evaluation of plausible model parameters using the VIC (Variable Infiltration Capacity) land surface model, aiming to characterize the impact of parameter identifiability on the uncertainty in flood and drought predictions. Additionally, VIC's global-scale parametric sensitivities are assessed at the annual, monthly, and daily timescales to determine whether coarse-timescale observations can properly constrain extreme events. Global and climate type results indicate that parameter uncertainty remains an important concern for predicting extreme events even after applying monthly and annual constraints to the ensemble, suggesting a need for improved prior distributions of the model parameters as well as improved observations. This study contributes a comprehensive evaluation of land surface modeling for global flood and drought monitoring and suggests paths forward to overcome the challenges posed by parameter uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3239-3251
Number of pages13
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 24 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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