Articles | Volume 16, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 1269–1279, 2012

Special issue: Hydrology education in a changing world

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 1269–1279, 2012

Research article 03 May 2012

Research article | 03 May 2012

Using comparative analysis to teach about the nature of nonstationarity in future flood predictions

S. B. Shaw1 and M. T. Walter2 S. B. Shaw and M. T. Walter
  • 1Department of Environmental Resources Engineering, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA
  • 2Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

Abstract. Comparative analysis has been a little used approach to the teaching of hydrology. Instead, hydrology is often taught by introducing fundamental principles with the assumption that they are sufficiently universal to apply across most any hydrologic system. In this paper, we illustrate the value of using comparative analysis to enhance students' insights into the degree and predictability of future non-stationarity in flood frequency analysis. Traditionally, flood frequency analysis is taught from a statistical perspective that can offer limited means of understanding the nature of non-stationarity. By visually comparing graphics of mean daily flows and annual peak discharges (plotted against Julian day) for watersheds in a variety of locales, distinct differences in the timing and nature of flooding in different regions of the US becomes readily apparent. Such differences highlight the dominant hydroclimatological drivers of different watersheds. When linked with information on the predictability of hydroclimatic drivers (hurricanes, atmospheric rivers, snowpack melt, convective events) in a changing climate, such comparative analysis provides students with an improved physical understanding of flood processes and a stronger foundation on which to make judgments about how to modify statistical techniques for making predictions in a changing climate. We envision that such comparative analysis could be incorporated into a number of other traditional hydrologic topics.