Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Assessing placement bias of the global river gauge network

Krabbenhoft, Corey A.; Allen, George H.; Lin, Peirong; Godsey, Sarah E.; Allen, Daniel C.; Burrows, Ryan M.; DelVecchia, Amanda G.; Fritz, Ken M.; Shanafield, Margaret; Burgin, Amy J.; Zimmer, Margaret A.; Datry, Thibault; Dodds, Walter K.; Jones, C. Nathan; Mims, Meryl C.; Franklin, Catherin; Hammond, John C.; Zipper, Sam; Ward, Adam S.; Costigan, Katie H.;
Show more authors


Hydrologic data collected from river gauges inform critical decisions for allocating water resources, conserving ecosystems and predicting the occurrence of droughts and floods. The current global river gauge network is biased towards large, perennial rivers, and strategic adaptations are needed to capture the full scope of rivers on Earth.Knowing where and when rivers flow is paramount to managing freshwater ecosystems. Yet stream gauging stations are distributed sparsely across rivers globally and may not capture the diversity of fluvial network properties and anthropogenic influences. Here we evaluate the placement bias of a global stream gauge dataset on its representation of socioecological, hydrologic, climatic and physiographic diversity of rivers. We find that gauges are located disproportionally in large, perennial rivers draining more human-occupied watersheds. Gauges are sparsely distributed in protected areas and rivers characterized by non-perennial flow regimes, both of which are critical to freshwater conservation and water security concerns. Disparities between the geography of the global gauging network and the broad diversity of streams and rivers weakens our ability to understand critical hydrologic processes and make informed water-management and policy decisions. Our findings underscore the need to address current gauge placement biases by investing in and prioritizing the installation of new gauging stations, embracing alternative water-monitoring strategies, advancing innovation in hydrologic modelling, and increasing accessibility of local and regional gauging data to support human responses to water challenges, both today and in the future.

Published in

Nature sustainability
2022, volume: 5, number: 7, pages: 586-592

Authors' information

Krabbenhoft, Corey A.
State University of New York (SUNY) Buffalo
Allen, George H.
Texas AandM University College Station
Lin, Peirong
Peking University
Godsey, Sarah E.
Idaho State University
Allen, Daniel C.
Pennsylvania Commonwealth System of Higher Education (PCSHE)
Burrows, Ryan M.
University of Melbourne
DelVecchia, Amanda G.
Duke University
Fritz, Ken M.
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Shanafield, Margaret
Flinders University South Australia
Burgin, Amy J.
University of Kansas
Zimmer, Margaret A.
University of California Santa Cruz
Datry, Thibault
Dodds, Walter K.
Kansas State University
Jones, C. Nathan
University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
Mims, Meryl C.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Franklin, Catherin
Texas AandM University College Station
Hammond, John C.
United States Geological Survey
Zipper, Sam
University of Kansas
Ward, Adam S.
Indiana University Bloomington
Costigan, Katie H.
University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
Show more authors

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land
SDG13 Climate action

UKÄ Subject classification

Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)