Articles | Volume 15, issue 3
Research article
11 Mar 2011
Research article |  | 11 Mar 2011

Series distance – an intuitive metric to quantify hydrograph similarity in terms of occurrence, amplitude and timing of hydrological events

U. Ehret and E. Zehe

Abstract. Applying metrics to quantify the similarity or dissimilarity of hydrographs is a central task in hydrological modelling, used both in model calibration and the evaluation of simulations or forecasts. Motivated by the shortcomings of standard objective metrics such as the Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) or the Mean Absolute Peak Time Error (MAPTE) and the advantages of visual inspection as a powerful tool for simultaneous, case-specific and multi-criteria (yet subjective) evaluation, we propose a new objective metric termed Series Distance, which is in close accordance with visual evaluation. The Series Distance quantifies the similarity of two hydrographs neither in a time-aggregated nor in a point-by-point manner, but on the scale of hydrological events. It consists of three parts, namely a Threat Score which evaluates overall agreement of event occurrence, and the overall distance of matching observed and simulated events with respect to amplitude and timing. The novelty of the latter two is the way in which matching point pairs on the observed and simulated hydrographs are identified: not by equality in time (as is the case with the RMSE), but by the same relative position in matching segments (rise or recession) of the event, indicating the same underlying hydrological process. Thus, amplitude and timing errors are calculated simultaneously but separately, from point pairs that also match visually, considering complete events rather than only individual points (as is the case with MAPTE). Relative weights can freely be assigned to each component of the Series Distance, which allows (subjective) customization of the metric to various fields of application, but in a traceable way. Each of the three components of the Series Distance can be used in an aggregated or non-aggregated way, which makes the Series Distance a suitable tool for differentiated, process-based model diagnostics.

After discussing the applicability of established time series metrics for hydrographs, we present the Series Distance theory, discuss its properties and compare it to those of standard metrics used in Hydrology, both at the example of simple, artificial hydrographs and an ensemble of realistic forecasts. The results suggest that the Series Distance quantifies the degree of similarity of two hydrographs in a way comparable to visual inspection, but in an objective, reproducible way.