Articles | Volume 19, issue 4
Research article
09 Apr 2015
Research article |  | 09 Apr 2015

Improving operational flood ensemble prediction by the assimilation of satellite soil moisture: comparison between lumped and semi-distributed schemes

C. Alvarez-Garreton, D. Ryu, A. W. Western, C.-H. Su, W. T. Crow, D. E. Robertson, and C. Leahy

Abstract. Assimilation of remotely sensed soil moisture data (SM-DA) to correct soil water stores of rainfall-runoff models has shown skill in improving streamflow prediction. In the case of large and sparsely monitored catchments, SM-DA is a particularly attractive tool. Within this context, we assimilate satellite soil moisture (SM) retrievals from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E), the Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT) and the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) instrument, using an Ensemble Kalman filter to improve operational flood prediction within a large (> 40 000 km2) semi-arid catchment in Australia. We assess the importance of accounting for channel routing and the spatial distribution of forcing data by applying SM-DA to a lumped and a semi-distributed scheme of the probability distributed model (PDM). Our scheme also accounts for model error representation by explicitly correcting bias in soil moisture and streamflow in the ensemble generation process, and for seasonal biases and errors in the satellite data.

Before assimilation, the semi-distributed model provided a more accurate streamflow prediction (Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency, NSE = 0.77) than the lumped model (NSE = 0.67) at the catchment outlet. However, this did not ensure good performance at the "ungauged" inner catchments (two of them with NSE below 0.3). After SM-DA, the streamflow ensemble prediction at the outlet was improved in both the lumped and the semi-distributed schemes: the root mean square error of the ensemble was reduced by 22 and 24%, respectively; the false alarm ratio was reduced by 9% in both cases; the peak volume error was reduced by 58 and 1%, respectively; the ensemble skill was improved (evidenced by 12 and 13% reductions in the continuous ranked probability scores, respectively); and the ensemble reliability was increased in both cases (expressed by flatter rank histograms). SM-DA did not improve NSE.

Our findings imply that even when rainfall is the main driver of flooding in semi-arid catchments, adequately processed satellite SM can be used to reduce errors in the model soil moisture, which in turn provides better streamflow ensemble prediction. We demonstrate that SM-DA efficacy is enhanced when the spatial distribution in forcing data and routing processes are accounted for. At ungauged locations, SM-DA is effective at improving some characteristics of the streamflow ensemble prediction; however, the updated prediction is still poor since SM-DA does not address the systematic errors found in the model prior to assimilation.

Short summary
We assimilate satellite soil moisture into a rainfall-runoff model for improving flood prediction within a data-scarce region. We argue that the spatially distributed satellite data can alleviate the model prediction limitations. We show that satellite soil moisture DA reduces the uncertainty of the streamflow ensembles. We propose new techniques for the DA scheme, including seasonal error characterisation, bias correction of the satellite retrievals, and model error representation.