Articles | Volume 14, issue 5
Research article
23 May 2014
Research article |  | 23 May 2014

Stochastic semi-continuous simulation for extreme flood estimation in catchments with combined rainfall–snowmelt flood regimes

D. Lawrence, E. Paquet, J. Gailhard, and A. K. Fleig

Abstract. Simulation methods for extreme flood estimation represent an important complement to statistical flood frequency analysis because a spectrum of catchment conditions potentially leading to extreme flows can be assessed. In this paper, stochastic, semi-continuous simulation is used to estimate extreme floods in three catchments located in Norway, all of which are characterised by flood regimes in which snowmelt often has a significant role. The simulations are based on SCHADEX, which couples a precipitation probabilistic model with a hydrological simulation such that an exhaustive set of catchment conditions and responses is simulated. The precipitation probabilistic model is conditioned by regional weather patterns, and a bottom–up classification procedure was used to define a set of weather patterns producing extreme precipitation in Norway. SCHADEX estimates for the 1000-year (Q1000) discharge are compared with those of several standard methods, including event-based and long-term simulations which use a single extreme precipitation sequence as input to a hydrological model, statistical flood frequency analysis based on the annual maximum series, and the GRADEX method. The comparison suggests that the combination of a precipitation probabilistic model with a long-term simulation of catchment conditions, including snowmelt, produces estimates for given return periods which are more in line with those based on statistical flood frequency analysis, as compared with the standard simulation methods, in two of the catchments. In the third case, the SCHADEX method gives higher estimates than statistical flood frequency analysis and further suggests that the seasonality of the most likely Q1000 events differs from that of the annual maximum flows. The semi-continuous stochastic simulation method highlights the importance of considering the joint probability of extreme precipitation, snowmelt rates and catchment saturation states when assigning return periods to floods estimated by precipitation-runoff methods. The SCHADEX methodology, as applied here, is dependent on observed discharge data for calibration of a hydrological model, and further study to extend its application to ungauged catchments would significantly enhance its versatility.

Final-revised paper