Articles | Volume 17, issue 1
Research article
22 Jan 2013
Research article |  | 22 Jan 2013

Echo state networks as an alternative to traditional artificial neural networks in rainfall–runoff modelling

N. J. de Vos

Abstract. Despite theoretical benefits of recurrent artificial neural networks over their feedforward counterparts, it is still unclear whether the former offer practical advantages as rainfall–runoff models. The main drawback of recurrent networks is the increased complexity of the training procedure due to their architecture. This work uses the recently introduced and conceptually simple echo state networks for streamflow forecasts on twelve river basins in the Eastern United States, and compares them to a variety of traditional feedforward and recurrent approaches. Two modifications on the echo state network models are made that increase the hydrologically relevant information content of their internal state. The results show that the echo state networks outperform feedforward networks and are competitive with state-of-the-art recurrent networks, across a range of performance measures. This, along with their simplicity and ease of training, suggests that they can be considered promising alternatives to traditional artificial neural networks in rainfall–runoff modelling.