On the stationarity of annual flood peaks in the continental United States during the 20th century

Gabriele Villarini, Francesco Serinaldi, James A. Smith, Witold F. Krajewski

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401 Scopus citations


Annual peak discharge records from 50 stations in the continental United States with at least 100 years of record are used to investigate stationarity of flood peaks during the 20th century. We examine temporal trends in flood peaks and abrupt changes in the mean and/or variance of flood peak distributions. Change point analysis for detecting abrupt changes in flood distributions is performed using the nonparametric Pettitt test. Two nonparametric (Mann-Kendall and Spearman) tests and one parametric (Pearson) test are used to detect the presence of temporal trends. Generalized additive models for location, scale, and shape (GAMLSS) are also used to parametrically model the annual peak data, exploiting their flexibility to account for abrupt changes and temporal trends in the parameters of the distribution functions. Additionally, the presence of long-term persistence is investigated through estimation of the Hurst exponent, and an alternative interpretation of the results in terms of long-term persistence is provided. Many of the drainage basins represented in this study have been affected by regulation through systems of reservoirs, and all of the drainage basins have experienced significant land use changes during the 20th century. Despite the profound changes that have occurred to drainage basins throughout the continental United States and the recognition that elements of the hydrologic cycle are being altered by human-induced climate change, it is easier to proclaim the demise of stationarity of flood peaks than to prove it through analyses of annual flood peak data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW08417
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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