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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 12, issue 4
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 12, 1141–1152, 2008
© Author(s) 2008. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 12, 1141–1152, 2008
© Author(s) 2008. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  26 Aug 2008

26 Aug 2008

Inferring the flood frequency distribution for an ungauged basin using a spatially distributed rainfall-runoff model

G. Moretti1 and A. Montanari2 G. Moretti and A. Montanari
  • 1Independent Engineer, Stuttgart, Germany
  • 2Faculty of Engineering, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

Abstract. The estimation of the peak river flow for ungauged river sections is a topical issue in applied hydrology. Spatially distributed rainfall-runoff models can be a useful tool to this end, since they are potentially able to simulate the river flow at any location of the watershed drainage network. However, it is not fully clear to what extent these models can provide reliable simulations over a wide range of spatial scales. This issue is investigated here by applying a spatially distributed, continuous simulation rainfall-runoff model to infer the flood frequency distribution of the Riarbero River. This is an ungauged mountain creek located in northern Italy, whose drainage area is 17 km2. The hydrological model is first calibrated by using a 1-year record of hourly meteorological data and river flows observed at the outlet of the 1294 km2 wide Secchia River basin, of which the Riarbero is a tributary. The model is then validated by performing a 100-year long simulation of synthetic river flow data, which allowed us to compare the simulated and observed flood frequency distributions at the Secchia River outlet and the internal cross river section of Cavola Bridge, where the basin area is 337 km2. Finally, another simulation of hourly river flows was performed by referring to the outlet of the Riarbero River, therefore allowing us to estimate the related flood frequency distribution. The results were validated by using estimates of peak river flow obtained by applying hydrological similarity principles and a regional method. The results show that the flood flow estimated through the application of the distributed model is consistent with the estimate provided by the regional procedure as well as the behaviors of the river banks. Conversely, the method based on hydrological similarity delivers an estimate that seems to be not as reliable. The analysis highlights interesting perspectives for the application of spatially distributed models to ungauged catchments.

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