Spatio-Temporal Machine Learning for Regional to Continental Scale Terrestrial Hydrology

Andrew Bennett, Hoang Tran, Luis De la Fuente, Amanda Triplett, Yueling Ma, Peter Melchior, Reed M. Maxwell, Laura E. Condon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Integrated hydrologic models can simulate coupled surface and subsurface processes but are computationally expensive to run at high resolutions over large domains. Here we develop a novel deep learning model to emulate subsurface flows simulated by the integrated ParFlow-CLM model across the contiguous US. We compare convolutional neural networks like ResNet and UNet run autoregressively against our novel architecture called the Forced SpatioTemporal RNN (FSTR). The FSTR model incorporates separate encoding of initial conditions, static parameters, and meteorological forcings, which are fused in a recurrent loop to produce spatiotemporal predictions of groundwater. We evaluate the model architectures on their ability to reproduce 4D pressure heads, water table depths, and surface soil moisture over the contiguous US at 1 km resolution and daily time steps over the course of a full water year. The FSTR model shows superior performance to the baseline models, producing stable simulations that capture both seasonal and event-scale dynamics across a wide array of hydroclimatic regimes. The emulators provide over 1,000× speedup compared to the original physical model, which will enable new capabilities like uncertainty quantification and data assimilation for integrated hydrologic modeling that were not previously possible. Our results demonstrate the promise of using specialized deep learning architectures like FSTR for emulating complex process-based models without sacrificing fidelity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023MS004095
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


  • deep learning
  • groundwater
  • hydrologic modeling
  • surrogate models


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