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The Treatment of Uncertainty in Hydrometric Observations: A Probabilistic Description of Streamflow Records


In this paper, we introduce a relatively simple data-driven method for the representation of the uncertainty in daily discharge records. The proposed method relies only on hourly discharge data and takes advantage of a nonparametric difference-based estimator in the characterization of random errors in discharge time series. We illustrate with corrupted streamflow data that the nonparametric estimator provides an accurate characterization of the nature (homoscedastic or heteroscedastic) and magnitude of these errors. In addition, we demonstrate the practical usefulness of the estimator using discharge time series of 500+ watersheds of the Catchment Attributes and MEteorology for Large-sample Studies data set. This analysis reveals that the magnitude of errors of aleatory nature in the investigated discharge records is rather small (less than 3% for 80% of the records). We then combine the effect of random errors and measurement frequency into a daily variance estimate, which serves as input to a streamflow generation approach. This procedure produces replicates of the discharge record which portray accurately the assigned streamflow uncertainty, preserve key statistical properties of the discharge record and are hydrologically realistic. The proposed method facilitates Bayesian analysis and supports tasks such as model diagnostics, data assimilation, uncertainty quantification and regionalization.

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