Articles | Volume 14, issue 10
Research article
22 Oct 2010
Research article |  | 22 Oct 2010

Towards improving river discharge estimation in ungauged basins: calibration of rainfall-runoff models based on satellite observations of river flow width at basin outlet

W. C. Sun, H. Ishidaira, and S. Bastola

Abstract. Rainfall-runoff models are common tools for river discharge estimation in the field of hydrology. In ungauged basins, the dependence on observed river discharge data for calibration restricts applications of rainfall-runoff models. The strong correlation between quantities of river cross-sectional water surface width obtained from remote sensing and corresponding in situ gauged river discharge has been verified by many researchers. In this study, a calibration scheme of rainfall-runoff models based on satellite observations of river width at basin outlet is illustrated. One distinct advantage is that this calibration is independent of river discharge information. The at-a-station hydraulic geometry is implemented to facilitate shifting the calibration objective from river discharge to river width. The generalized likelihood uncertainty estimation (GLUE) is applied to model calibration and uncertainty analysis. The calibration scheme is demonstrated through a case study for simulating river discharge at Pakse in the Mekong Basin. The effectiveness of the calibration scheme and uncertainties associated with utilization of river width observations from space are examined from model input-state-output behaviour, capability of reproducing river discharge and posterior parameter distribution. The results indicate that the satellite observation of the river width is a competent surrogate of observed discharge for the calibration of rainfall-runoff model at Pakse and the proposed method has the potential for improving reliability of river discharge estimation in basins without any discharge gauging.