Observational Uncertainties in Water-Resources Modelling in Central America Methods for Uncertainty Estimation and Model Evaluation

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Knowledge about spatial and temporal variability of hydrological processes is central for sustainable water-resources management, and such knowledge is created from observational data. Hydrologic models are necessary for prediction for time periods and areas lacking data, but are affected by observational uncertainties. Methods for estimating and accounting for such uncertainties in water-resources modelling are of high importance, especially in regions such as Central America.Observational uncertainties were addressed in three ways in this thesis; quality control, quantitative estimation and development of model-evaluation techniques that addressed unquantifiable uncertainties. A first step in any modelling study should be the quality control and concurrent analysis of the representativeness of the observational data. In the characterisation of the precipitation regime in the Choluteca River basin in Honduras, four different quality problems were identified and 22% of the daily data had to be rejected. The monitoring network was found to be insufficient for a comprehensive characterisation of the high spatiotemporal variability of the precipitation regime.Quantitative estimations of data uncertainties can be made when sufficient information is available. Discharge-data uncertainties were estimated with a fuzzy regression for time-variable rating curves and from official rating curves for 35 stations in Honduras. The uncertainties were largest for low flows, as a result of measurement uncertainties and natural variability.A method for calibration with flow-duration curves was developed which enabled calibration to the whole flow range, accounting for discharge uncertainty and calibration with non-overlapping time periods for model input and evaluation data. The method compared favourably to traditional calibration in a test using two models applied in basins with different runoff-generation processes. A post-hoc analysis made it possible to identify potential model-structure errors and periods of disinformative data. Flow-duration curves were regionalised and used for calibration of a Central-American water-balance model. The initial model uncertainty for the ungauged basins was reduced by 70%. Non-representative precipitation data were found to be the main obstacle to comprehensive regional water-resources modelling in Central America.These methods bridged several problems related to observational uncertainties in water-balance modelling. Estimates of prediction uncertainty are an important basis for all types of decisions related to water-resources management.