Journal cover Journal topic
Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
doi:10.5194/hess-2016-460
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Cutting-edge case studies
22 Sep 2016
Review status
This discussion paper is under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).
The probability distribution of daily streamflow in the conterminous United States
Annalise G. Blum1, Richard M. Vogel1, and Stacey A. Archfield2 1Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA, 02155, USA
2U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA, 20192, USA
Abstract. One of the most commonly used tools in hydrology, empirical flow duration curves (FDCs) characterize the frequency with which streamflows are equaled or exceeded. Finding a suitable probability distribution to approximate a FDC enables regionalization and prediction of FDCs in basins that lack streamflow measurements. FDCs constructed from daily streamflow observations can be computed as the period-of-record FDC (POR-FDC) to represent long-term streamflow conditions or as the median annual FDC (MA-FDC) to represent streamflows in a typical year. The goal of this study is to identify suitable probability distributions for both POR-FDCs and MA-FDCs of daily streamflow for unregulated and perennial streams. Comparisons of modeled and empirical FDCs at over 400 unregulated stream gages across the conterminous United States reveal that both the four-parameter kappa (KAP) and three-parameter generalized Pareto (GPA3) distributions can provide reasonable approximations to MA-FDCs; however, even four and five-parameter distributions are unable to capture the complexity of the POR-FDC behavior for which flows often range over five or more orders of magnitude. Regional regression models developed for the mid-Atlantic and Missouri regions as case studies present a simple and practical method to predict MA-FDCs at ungaged sites, which can be accurately predicted more consistently compared to POR-FDCs.

Citation: Blum, A. G. B., Vogel, R. M., and Archfield, S. A.: The probability distribution of daily streamflow in the conterminous United States, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., doi:10.5194/hess-2016-460, in review, 2016.
Annalise G. Blum et al.
Annalise G. Blum et al.
Annalise G. Blum et al.

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Short summary
Flow duration curves are ubiquitous in surface water hydrology for applications including water allocation and protection of ecosystem health. We conduct an extensive search for a single probability distribution that can fit flow duration curves of daily streamflows across the United States. Case studies in the mid-Atlantic and Missouri regions present a simple and practical method to predict flow duration curves at streams lacking flow measurements.
Flow duration curves are ubiquitous in surface water hydrology for applications including water...
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