Regional application of the Pitman monthly rainfall-runoff model in southern Africa incorporating uncertainty

Kapangaziwiri, Evison (2010) Regional application of the Pitman monthly rainfall-runoff model in southern Africa incorporating uncertainty. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

Climate change and a growing demand for freshwater resources due to population increases and socio-economic changes will make water a limiting factor (in terms of both quantity and quality) in development. The need for reliable quantitative estimates of water availability cannot be over-emphasised. However, there is frequently a paucity of the data required for this quantification as many basins, especially in the developing world, are inadequately equipped with monitoring networks. Existing networks are also shrinking due mainly to shortages in human and financial resources. Over the past few decades mathematical models have been used to bridge the data gap by generating datasets for use in management and policy making. In southern Africa, the Pitman monthly rainfall-runoff model has enjoyed relatively popular use as a water resources estimation tool. However, it is acknowledged that models are abstractions of reality and the data used to drive them is imperfect, making the model outputs uncertain. While there is acknowledgement of the limitations of modelled data in the southern African region among water practitioners, there has been little effort to explicitly quantify and account for this uncertainty in water resources estimation tools and explore how it affects the decision making process. Uncertainty manifests itself in three major areas of the modelling chain; the input data used to force the model, the parameter estimation process and the model structural errors. A previous study concluded that the parameter estimation process for the Pitman model contributed more to the global uncertainty of the model than other sources. While the literature abounds with uncertainty estimation techniques, many of these are dependent on observations and are therefore unlikely to be easily applicable to the southern African region where there is an acute shortage of such data. This study focuses on two aspects of making hydrologic predictions in ungauged basins. Firstly, the study advocates the development of an a priori parameter estimation process for the Pitman model and secondly, uses indices of hydrological functional behaviour to condition and reduce predictive uncertainty in both gauged and ungauged basins. In this approach all the basins are treated as ungauged, while the historical records in the gauged basins are used to develop regional indices of expected hydrological behaviour and assess the applicability of these methods. Incorporating uncertainty into the hydrologic estimation tools used in southern Africa entails rethinking the way the uncertain results can be used in further analysis and how they will be interpreted by stakeholders. An uncertainty framework is proposed. The framework is made up of a number of components related to the estimation of the prior distribution of the parameters, used to generate output ensembles which are then assessed and constrained using regionalised indices of basin behavioural responses. This is premised on such indices being based on the best available knowledge covering different regions. This framework is flexible enough to be used with any model structure to ensure consistent and comparable results. While the aim is to eventually apply the uncertainty framework in the southern African region, this study reports on the preliminary work on the development and testing of the framework components based on South African basins. This is necessitated by the variations in the availability and quality of the data across the region. Uncertainty in the parameter estimation process was incorporated by assuming uncertainty in the physical and hydro-meteorological data used to directly quantify the parameter. This uncertainty was represented by the range of variability of these basin characteristics and probability distribution functions were developed to account for this uncertainty and propagate it through the estimation process to generate posterior distributions for the parameters. The results show that the framework has a great deal of potential but can still be improved. In general, the estimated uncertain parameters managed to produce hydrologically realistic model outputs capturing the expected regimes across the different hydro-climatic and geo-physical gradients examined. The regional relationships for the three indices developed and tested in this study were in general agreement with existing knowledge and managed to successfully provide a multicriteria conditioning of the model output ensembles. The feedback loop included in the framework enabled a systematic re-examination of the estimation procedures for both the parameters and the indices when inconsistencies in the results were identified. This improved results. However, there is need to carefully examine the issues and problems that may arise within other basins outside South Africa and develop guidelines for the use of the framework.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Water supply, Southern Africa, Hydrology, Mathematical models, Hydrologic models, Rain and rainfall, Runoff
Subjects:G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA273 Probabilities. Mathematical statistics
Divisions:Research Institutes and Units > Institute for Water Research (IWR)
ID Code:2084
Deposited By: Ms Chantel Clack
Deposited On:11 Oct 2011 08:54
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:22
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