Journal cover Journal topic
Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
doi:10.5194/hess-2016-566
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
07 Feb 2017
Review status
This discussion paper is under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).
Uncertainty analysis of hydrological return period estimation, taking the upper Yangtze River as an example
Hemin Sun1,2, Tong Jiang1,2, Cheng Jing1,2, Buda Su1,2,3, and Guojie Wang1 1Collaborative Innovation Center on Forecast and Evaluation of Meteorological Disasters, Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, Nanjing, 210044, China
2National Climate Center, China Meteorological Administration, Beijing, 100081, China
3State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi, 830011, China
Abstract. Return period estimation plays an important role in the engineering practices of water resources and disaster management, but uncertainties accompany the calculation process. Based on the daily discharge records at two gauging stations (Cuntan and Pingshan) on the upper Yangtze River, three sampling methods (SMs; (annual maximum, peak over threshold, and decadal peak over threshold), five distribution functions (DFs; gamma, Gumbel, lognormal, Pearson III, and general extreme value), and three parameterization methods (PMs; maximum likelihood, L-Moment, and method of moment) were applied to analyze the uncertainties in return period estimation. The estimated return levels based on the different approaches were found to differ considerably at each station. The range of discharge for a 20-year return period was 63,800.8–74,024.1 m3 s−1 for Cuntan and 23,097.8–25,595.3 m3 s−1 for Pingshan, when using the 45 combinations of SMs, DFs, and PMs. For a 1000-year event, the estimated discharge ranges increased to 74,492.5–125,658.0 and 27,339.2–41,718.1 m3 s−1 for Cuntan and Pingshan, respectively. Application of the analysis of variance method showed that the total sum of the squares of the estimated return levels increased with the widening of the return periods, suggestive of increased uncertainties. However, the contributions of the different sources to the uncertainties were different. For Cuntan, where the discharge changed significantly, the SM appeared to be the largest source of uncertainty. For Pingshan, where the discharge series remained almost stable, the DF contributed most to the uncertainty. Therefore, multiple uncertainty sources in estimating return periods should be considered to meet the demands of different planning purposes. The research results also suggest that uncertainties of return level estimation could be reduced if an optimized DF were used, or if the decadal peak over threshold SM were used, which is capable of representing temporal changes of hydrological series.

Citation: Sun, H., Jiang, T., Jing, C., Su, B., and Wang, G.: Uncertainty analysis of hydrological return period estimation, taking the upper Yangtze River as an example, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., doi:10.5194/hess-2016-566, in review, 2017.
Hemin Sun et al.
Hemin Sun et al.
Hemin Sun et al.

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Short summary
Unlike previous studies, we focused on the return level variation caused not only by the choice of distribution functions, but also by the different sampling and parameterization methods. It was found that estimated return levels based on the various approaches were very large, and the contributions of different sources to uncertainties were not same for discharges with and without significant trend. These findings are meaningful for hydraulic designing and risk management practices.
Unlike previous studies, we focused on the return level variation caused not only by the choice...
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