An integrated uncertainty and ensemble-based data assimilation approach for improved operational streamflow predictions

Kevin (Minxue) He


The study proposes an integrated uncertainty and ensemble-based data assimilation framework (ICEA) and evaluates its viability in providing operational streamflow predictions via assimilating snow water equivalent (SWE) data. This step-wise framework applies a parameter uncertainty analysis algorithm (ISURF) to identify the uncertainty structure of sensitive model parameters, which is subsequently formulated into an Ensemble Kalman Filter (EnKF) to generate updated snow states for streamflow prediction. The framework is coupled to the US National Weather Service (NWS) snow and rainfall-runoff models. Its applicability is demonstrated for an operational basin of a western River Forecast Center (RFC) of the NWS. Performance of the framework is evaluated against existing operational baseline (RFC predictions), the stand-alone ISURF, and the stand-alone EnKF. Results indicate that the ensemble-mean prediction of ICEA considerably outperforms predictions from the other three scenarios investigated, particularly in the context of predicting high flows (top 5th percentile). The ICEA streamflow ensemble predictions capture the variability of the observed streamflow well, however the ensemble is not wide enough to consistently contain the range of streamflow observations in the study basin. These findings indicate that the ICEA has the potential to supplement the current operational (deterministic) forecasting method in terms of providing improved single-valued (e.g., ensemble mean) streamflow predictions as well as meaningful ensemble predictions.