Articles | Volume 9, issue 2
09 Apr 2009
 | 09 Apr 2009

Influence of rainfall spatial resolution on flash flood modelling

M. Sangati and M. Borga

Abstract. High resolution radar rainfall fields and a distributed hydrologic model are used to evaluate the sensitivity of flash flood simulations to spatial aggregation of rainfall at catchment scales ranging from 10.5 km2 to 623 km2. The case study focuses on the extreme flash flood occurred on 29 August 2003 on the eastern Italian Alps. Four rainfall spatial resolutions are considered, with grid size equal to 1-, 4-, 8- and 16-km. The influence of rainfall spatial aggregation is examined by using the flow distance as a spatial coordinate, hence emphasising the role of river network in the averaging of space-time rainfall. Effects of rainfall spatial aggregation are quantified by using a dimensionless parameter, represented by the ratio of rainfall resolution (Lr) to the characteristic basin length (Lw), taken as the square root of the watershed area. Increasing the Lr/Lw parameter induces large errors on the simulated peak discharge, with values of the peak discharge error up to 0.33 for Lr/Lw equal to 1.0. An important error source related to spatial rainfall aggregation is the rainfall volume error caused by incorrectly smoothing the rainfall volume either inside or outside of of the watershed. It is found that for Lr/Lw 1.0, around 50% of the peak discharge error is due to the rainfall volume error. Remaining errors are due to both the distortion of the rainfall spatial distribution, measured with respect to the river network, and to the reduced spatial variability of the rainfield. Further investigations are required to isolate and examine the effect of river network geometry on the averaging of space-time rainfall at various aggregation lengths and on simulated peak discharges.