Correcting the radar rainfall forcing of a hydrological model with data assimilation: application to flood forecasting in the Lez catchment in Southern France
Abstract. The present study explores the application of a data assimilation (DA) procedure to correct the radar rainfall inputs of an event-based, distributed, parsimonious hydrological model. An extended Kalman filter algorithm was built on top of a rainfall-runoff model in order to assimilate discharge observations at the catchment outlet. This work focuses primarily on the uncertainty in the rainfall data and considers this as the principal source of error in the simulated discharges, neglecting simplifications in the hydrological model structure and poor knowledge of catchment physics. The study site is the 114 km2 Lez catchment near Montpellier, France. This catchment is subject to heavy orographic rainfall and characterised by a karstic geology, leading to flash flooding events. The hydrological model uses a derived version of the SCS method, combined with a Lag and Route transfer function. Because the radar rainfall input to the model depends on geographical features and cloud structures, it is particularly uncertain and results in significant errors in the simulated discharges. This study seeks to demonstrate that a simple DA algorithm is capable of rendering radar rainfall suitable for hydrological forecasting. To test this hypothesis, the DA analysis was applied to estimate a constant hyetograph correction to each of 19 flood events. The analysis was carried in two different modes: by assimilating observations at all available time steps, referred to here as reanalysis mode, and by using only observations up to 3 h before the flood peak to mimic an operational environment, referred to as pseudo-forecast mode. In reanalysis mode, the resulting correction of the radar rainfall data was then compared to the mean field bias (MFB), a corrective coefficient determined using rain gauge measurements. It was shown that the radar rainfall corrected using DA leads to improved discharge simulations and Nash-Sutcliffe efficiency criteria compared to the MFB correction. In pseudo-forecast mode, the reduction of the uncertainty in the rainfall data leads to a reduction of the error in the simulated discharge, but uncertainty from the model parameterisation diminishes data assimilation efficiency. While the DA algorithm used is this study is effective in correcting uncertain radar rainfall, model uncertainty remains an important challenge for flood forecasting within the Lez catchment.