Articles | Volume 20, issue 10
Research article
28 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 28 Oct 2016

Combined assimilation of streamflow and snow water equivalent for mid-term ensemble streamflow forecasts in snow-dominated regions

Jean M. Bergeron, Mélanie Trudel, and Robert Leconte

Abstract. The potential of data assimilation for hydrologic predictions has been demonstrated in many research studies. Watersheds over which multiple observation types are available can potentially further benefit from data assimilation by having multiple updated states from which hydrologic predictions can be generated. However, the magnitude and time span of the impact of the assimilation of an observation varies according not only to its type, but also to the variables included in the state vector. This study examines the impact of multivariate synthetic data assimilation using the ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) into the spatially distributed hydrologic model CEQUEAU for the mountainous Nechako River located in British Columbia, Canada. Synthetic data include daily snow cover area (SCA), daily measurements of snow water equivalent (SWE) at three different locations and daily streamflow data at the watershed outlet. Results show a large variability of the continuous rank probability skill score over a wide range of prediction horizons (days to weeks) depending on the state vector configuration and the type of observations assimilated. Overall, the variables most closely linearly linked to the observations are the ones worth considering adding to the state vector due to the limitations imposed by the EnKF. The performance of the assimilation of basin-wide SCA, which does not have a decent proxy among potential state variables, does not surpass the open loop for any of the simulated variables. However, the assimilation of streamflow offers major improvements steadily throughout the year, but mainly over the short-term (up to 5 days) forecast horizons, while the impact of the assimilation of SWE gains more importance during the snowmelt period over the mid-term (up to 50 days) forecast horizon compared with open loop. The combined assimilation of streamflow and SWE performs better than their individual counterparts, offering improvements over all forecast horizons considered and throughout the whole year, including the critical period of snowmelt. This highlights the potential benefit of using multivariate data assimilation for streamflow predictions in snow-dominated regions.

Short summary
We want to know how combined snow water equivalent (SWE) and streamflow data assimilation (DA) impacts streamflow predictions and how it compares with DA of SWE only and streamflow only. Results show that streamflow DA positively impacts short-term streamflow forecasts, while the impact of SWE DA lasts over a much longer horizon. Simultaneous DA of both SWE and streamflow performs better than its individual counterparts at all forecast horizons.