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Analytical model for flow duration curves in seasonally dry climates

  • Author(s): Müller, MF;
  • Dralle, DN;
  • Thompson, SE
  • et al.

Flow duration curves (FDC) display streamflow values against their relative exceedance time. They provide critical information for watershed management by representing the variation in the availability and reliability of surface water to supply ecosystem services and satisfy anthropogenic needs. FDCs are particularly revealing in seasonally dry climates, where surface water supplies are highly variable. While useful, the empirical computation of FDCs is data intensive and challenging in sparsely gauged regions, meaning that there is a need for robust, predictive models to evaluate FDCs with simple parameterization. Here, we derive a process-based analytical expression for FDCs in seasonally dry climates. During the wet season, streamflow is modeled as a stochastic variable driven by rainfall, following the stochastic analytical model of Botter et al. (2007a). During the dry season, streamflow is modeled as a deterministic recession with a stochastic initial condition that accounts for the carryover of catchment storage across seasons. The resulting FDC model is applied to 38 catchments in Nepal, coastal California, and Western Australia, where FDCs are successfully modeled using five physically meaningful parameters with minimal calibration. A Monte Carlo analysis revealed that the model is robust to deviations from its assumptions of Poissonian rainfall, exponentially distributed response times and constant seasonal timing. The approach successfully models period-of-record FDCs and allows interannual and intra-annual sources of variations in dry season streamflow to be separated. The resulting median annual FDCs and confidence intervals allow the simulation of the consequences of interannual flow variations for infrastructure projects. We present an example using run-of-river hydropower in Nepal as a case study. Key Points Probabilistic derivation of flow distribution in seasonally dry climate Successfully applied in Nepal, California, and Western Australia Disentangles inter- and intra-annual streamflow variations © 2014. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

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