Articles | Volume 15, issue 3
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 999–1008, 2011
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 999–1008, 2011

Research article 23 Mar 2011

Research article | 23 Mar 2011

Hydrological real-time modelling in the Zambezi river basin using satellite-based soil moisture and rainfall data

P. Meier, A. Frömelt, and W. Kinzelbach P. Meier et al.
  • ETH Zürich, Institute of Environmental Engineering (IfU), Wolfgang-Pauli Strasse 15, 8093 Zürich, Switzerland

Abstract. Reliable real-time forecasts of the discharge can provide valuable information for the management of a river basin system. For the management of ecological releases even discharge forecasts with moderate accuracy can be beneficial. Sequential data assimilation using the Ensemble Kalman Filter provides a tool that is both efficient and robust for a real-time modelling framework. One key parameter in a hydrological system is the soil moisture, which recently can be characterized by satellite based measurements. A forecasting framework for the prediction of discharges is developed and applied to three different sub-basins of the Zambezi River Basin. The model is solely based on remote sensing data providing soil moisture and rainfall estimates. The soil moisture product used is based on the back-scattering intensity of a radar signal measured by a radar scatterometer. These soil moisture data correlate well with the measured discharge of the corresponding watershed if the data are shifted by a time lag which is dependent on the size and the dominant runoff process in the catchment. This time lag is the basis for the applicability of the soil moisture data for hydrological forecasts. The conceptual model developed is based on two storage compartments. The processes modeled include evaporation losses, infiltration and percolation. The application of this model in a real-time modelling framework yields good results in watersheds where soil storage is an important factor. The lead time of the forecast is dependent on the size and the retention capacity of the watershed. For the largest watershed a forecast over 40 days can be provided. However, the quality of the forecast increases significantly with decreasing prediction time. In a watershed with little soil storage and a quick response to rainfall events, the performance is relatively poor and the lead time is as short as 10 days only.