Regional regression models of percentile flows for the contiguous
US: Expert versus data-driven independent variable selection
Geoffrey Fouad1, André Skupin2, and Christina L. Tague31Geography Program, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, NJ, USA 2Department of Geography, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA 3Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Received: 01 Dec 2016 – Accepted for review: 12 Dec 2016 – Discussion started: 19 Dec 2016
Abstract. Percentile flows are statistics derived from the flow duration curve (FDC) that describe the flow equaled or exceeded for a given percent of time. These statistics provide important information for managing rivers, but are often unavailable since most basins are ungauged. A common approach for predicting percentile flows is to deploy regional regression models based on gauged percentile flows and related independent variables derived from physical and climatic data. The first step of this process identifies groups of basins through a cluster analysis of the independent variables, followed by the development of a regression model for each group. This entire process hinges on the independent variables selected to summarize the physical and climatic state of basins. Distributed physical and climatic datasets now exist for the contiguous United States (US). However, it remains unclear how to best represent these data for the development of regional regression models. The study presented here developed regional regression models for the contiguous US, and evaluated the effect of different approaches for selecting the initial set of independent variables on the predictive performance of the regional regression models. An expert assessment of the dominant controls on the FDC was used to identify a small set of independent variables likely related to percentile flows. A data-driven approach was also applied to evaluate two larger sets of variables that consist of either (1) the averages of data for each basin or (2) both the averages and statistical distribution of basin data distributed in space and time. The small set of variables from the expert assessment of the FDC and two larger sets of variables for the data-driven approach were each applied for a regional regression procedure. Differences in predictive performance were evaluated using 184 validation basins withheld from regression model development. The small set of independent variables selected through expert assessment produced similar, if not better, performance than the two larger sets of variables. A parsimonious set of variables only consisted of mean annual precipitation, potential evapotranspiration, and baseflow index. Additional variables in the two larger sets of variables added little to no predictive information. Regional regression models based on the parsimonious set of variables were developed using 734 calibration basins, and were converted into a tool for predicting 13 percentile flows in the contiguous US. Supplementary Material for this paper includes an R graphical user interface for predicting the percentile flows of basins within the range of conditions used to calibrate the regression models. The equations and performance statistics of the models are also supplied in tabular form.
Fouad, G., Skupin, A., and Tague, C. L.: Regional regression models of percentile flows for the contiguous
US: Expert versus data-driven independent variable selection, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., doi:10.5194/hess-2016-639, in review, 2016.