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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 11 Jul 2018

Research article | 11 Jul 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Value of uncertain streamflow observations for hydrological modelling

Simon Etter1, Barbara Strobl1, Jan Seibert1,2, and Ilja van Meerveld1 Simon Etter et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Villavägen 16, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden

Abstract. Previous studies have shown that a hydrological model can be parameterized using on a limited number of streamflow measurements for otherwise ungauged basins. Citizen science projects can collect such data but an important question is whether these observations are informative given that these streamflow estimates will be uncertain. We address the value of inaccurate streamflow estimates for calibration of a simple bucket-type runoff model for six Swiss catchments. We pretended that only a few observations were available and that these were affected by different levels of inaccuracy. The initial inaccuracy level was based on a log-normal error distribution that was fitted to streamflow estimates of 136 citizens for medium-sized streams. Two additional levels of inaccuracy, for which the standard deviation of the error-distribution was divided by two and four, were used as well. Based on these error distributions, random errors were added to the measured hourly streamflow data. New time series with different temporal resolutions were created from these synthetic time series. These included scenarios with one observation each week or month and scenarios that are more realistic for crowdsourced datasets with irregular distributions throughout the year or a focus on spring or summer. The model was then calibrated for the six catchments using the synthetic time series for a dry, an average and a wet year. The performance of the calibrated models was evaluated based on the measured hourly streamflow time series. The results indicate that streamflow estimates from untrained citizens are not informative for model calibration. However, if the errors can be reduced, the estimates are informative and useful for model parameterization. As expected, the model performance increased when the number of observations used for calibration increased. The model performance was also better when the observations were more evenly distributed throughout the year. This study indicates that uncertain streamflow estimates can be useful for model calibration but that the estimates by citizen scientists need to be improved by training or more advanced data filtering before they are useful for model calibration.

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Simon Etter et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
To evaluate the potential value of streamflow estimates for hydrological model calibration we created synthetic streamflow datasets in various temporal resolutions based on the errors in streamflow estimates of 136 citizens. Our results show that streamflow estimates of untrained citizens are too inaccurate to be useful for model calibration. If however, the errors can be reduced by training or filtering the estimates become useful if also a sufficient number of estimates are available.
To evaluate the potential value of streamflow estimates for hydrological model calibration we...