Articles | Volume 21, issue 8
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 4021–4036, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-21-4021-2017
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 4021–4036, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-21-4021-2017

Research article 10 Aug 2017

Research article | 10 Aug 2017

Residual uncertainty estimation using instance-based learning with applications to hydrologic forecasting

Omar Wani1,2,a,b, Joost V. L. Beckers2, Albrecht H. Weerts2,3, and Dimitri P. Solomatine1,4,5 Omar Wani et al.
  • 1IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 2Deltares, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 3Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands
  • 4Water Resources Section, Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 5Water Problems Institute of RAS, Moscow, Russia
  • acurrently at: Institute of Environmental Engineering, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zürich, Switzerland
  • bcurrently at: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), Dübendorf, Switzerland

Abstract. A non-parametric method is applied to quantify residual uncertainty in hydrologic streamflow forecasting. This method acts as a post-processor on deterministic model forecasts and generates a residual uncertainty distribution. Based on instance-based learning, it uses a k nearest-neighbour search for similar historical hydrometeorological conditions to determine uncertainty intervals from a set of historical errors, i.e. discrepancies between past forecast and observation. The performance of this method is assessed using test cases of hydrologic forecasting in two UK rivers: the Severn and Brue. Forecasts in retrospect were made and their uncertainties were estimated using kNN resampling and two alternative uncertainty estimators: quantile regression (QR) and uncertainty estimation based on local errors and clustering (UNEEC). Results show that kNN uncertainty estimation produces accurate and narrow uncertainty intervals with good probability coverage. Analysis also shows that the performance of this technique depends on the choice of search space. Nevertheless, the accuracy and reliability of uncertainty intervals generated using kNN resampling are at least comparable to those produced by QR and UNEEC. It is concluded that kNN uncertainty estimation is an interesting alternative to other post-processors, like QR and UNEEC, for estimating forecast uncertainty. Apart from its concept being simple and well understood, an advantage of this method is that it is relatively easy to implement.

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Short summary
We generate uncertainty intervals for hydrologic model predictions using a simple instance-based learning scheme. Errors made by the model in some specific hydrometeorological conditions in the past are used to predict the probability distribution of its errors during forecasting. We test it for two different case studies in England. We find that this technique, even though conceptually simple and easy to implement, performs as well as some other sophisticated uncertainty estimation methods.