Event-scale power law recession analysis: quantifying methodological uncertainty

Hydrology and Earth System Science | Dralle et al. [2017]

Abstract

The study of single streamflow recession events is receiving increasing attention following the presentation of novel theoretical explanations for the emergence of power law forms of the recession relationship, and drivers of its variability. Individually characterizing streamflow recessions often involves describing the similarities and differences between model parameters fitted to each recession time series. Significant methodological sensitivity has been identified in the fitting and parameterization of models that describe populations of many recessions, but the dependence of estimated model parameters on methodological choices has not been evaluated for event-by-event forms of analysis. Here, we use daily streamflow data from 16 catchments in northern California and southern Oregon to investigate how combinations of commonly used streamflow recession definitions and fitting techniques impact parameter estimates of a widely used power law recession model. Results are relevant to watersheds that are relatively steep, forested, and rain-dominated. The highly seasonal mediterranean climate of northern California and southern Oregon ensures study catchments explore a wide range of recession behaviors and wetness states, ideal for a sensitivity analysis. In such catchments, we show the following: (i) methodological decisions, including ones that have received little attention in the literature, can impact parameter value estimates and model goodness of fit; (ii) the central tendencies of event-scale recession parameter probability distributions are largely robust to methodological choices, in the sense that differing methods rank catchments similarly according to the medians of these distributions; (iii) recession parameter distributions are method-dependent, but roughly catchment-independent, such that changing the choices made about a particular method affects a given parameter in similar ways across most catchments; and (iv) the observed correlative relationship between the power-law recession scale parameter and catchment antecedent wetness varies depending on recession definition and fitting choices. Considering study results, we recommend a combination of four key methodological decisions to maximize the quality of fitted recession curves, and to minimize bias in the related populations of fitted recession parameters.

Full text can be found here.

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