Articles | Volume 17, issue 9
Research article
30 Sep 2013
Research article |  | 30 Sep 2013

On selection of the optimal data time interval for real-time hydrological forecasting

J. Liu and D. Han

Abstract. With the advancement in modern telemetry and communication technologies, hydrological data can be collected with an increasingly higher sampling rate. An important issue deserving attention from the hydrological community is which suitable time interval of the model input data should be chosen in hydrological forecasting. Such a problem has long been recognised in the control engineering community but is a largely ignored topic in operational applications of hydrological forecasting. In this study, the intrinsic properties of rainfall–runoff data with different time intervals are first investigated from the perspectives of the sampling theorem and the information loss using the discrete wavelet transform tool. It is found that rainfall signals with very high sampling rates may not always improve the accuracy of rainfall–runoff modelling due to the catchment low-pass-filtering effect. To further investigate the impact of a data time interval in real-time forecasting, a real-time forecasting system is constructed by incorporating the probability distributed model (PDM) with a real-time updating scheme, the autoregressive moving-average (ARMA) model. Case studies are then carried out on four UK catchments with different concentration times for real-time flow forecasting using data with different time intervals of 15, 30, 45, 60, 90 and 120 min. A positive relation is found between the forecast lead time and the optimal choice of the data time interval, which is also highly dependent on the catchment concentration time. Finally, based on the conclusions from the case studies, a hypothetical pattern is proposed in three-dimensional coordinates to describe the general impact of the data time interval and to provide implications of the selection of the optimal time interval in real-time hydrological forecasting. Although nowadays most operational hydrological systems still have low data sampling rates (daily or hourly), the future is that higher sampling rates will become more widespread, and there is an urgent need for hydrologists both in academia and in the field to realise the significance of the data time interval issue. It is important that more case studies in different catchments with various hydrological forecasting systems are explored in the future to further verify and improve the proposed hypothetical pattern.