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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Comprehensive space-time hydrometeorological simulations for estimating very rare floods at multiple sites in a large river basin

Viviroli, Daniel; Sikorska-Senoner, Anna E.; Evin, Guillaume; Staudinger, Maria; Kauzlaric, Martina; Chardon, Jeremy; Favre, Anne-Catherine; Hingray, Benoit; Nicolet, Gilles; Raynaud, Damien; Seibert, Jan; Weingartner, Rolf; Whealton, Calvin;


Estimates for rare to very rare floods are limited by the relatively short streamflow records available. Often, pragmatic conversion factors are used to quantify such events based on extrapolated observations, or simplifying assumptions are made about extreme precipitation and resulting flood peaks. Continuous simulation (CS) is an alternative approach that better links flood estimation with physical processes and avoids assumptions about antecedent conditions. However, long-term CS has hardly been implemented to estimate rare floods (i.e. return periods considerably larger than 100 years) at multiple sites in a large river basin to date. Here we explore the feasibility and reliability of the CS approach for 19 sites in the Aare River basin in Switzerland (area: 17 700 km2) with exceedingly long simulations in a hydrometeorological model chain. The chain starts with a multi-site stochastic weather generator used to generate 30 realizations of hourly precipitation and temperature scenarios of 10 000 years each. These realizations were then run through a bucket-type hydrological model for 80 sub-catchments and finally routed downstream with a simplified representation of main river channels, major lakes and relevant floodplains in a hydrologic routing system. Comprehensive evaluation over different temporal and spatial scales showed that the main features of the meteorological and hydrological observations are well represented and that meaningful information on low-probability floods can be inferred. Although uncertainties are still considerable, the explicit consideration of important processes of flood generation and routing (snow accumulation, snowmelt, soil moisture storage, bank overflow, lake and floodplain retention) is a substantial advantage. The approach allows for comprehensively exploring possible but unobserved spatial and temporal patterns of hydrometeorological behaviour. This is of particular value in a large river basin where the complex interaction of flows from individual tributaries and lake regulations are typically not well represented in the streamflow observations. The framework is also suitable for estimating more frequent floods, as often required in engineering and hazard mapping.

Published in

Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences

2022, volume: 22, number: 9, pages: 2891-2920

Authors' information

Viviroli, Daniel
University of Zurich
Sikorska-Senoner, Anna E.
University of Zurich
Evin, Guillaume
Université Grenoble Alpes
Staudinger, Maria
University of Zurich
Kauzlaric, Martina
University of Bern
Chardon, Jeremy
Université Grenoble Alpes
Favre, Anne-Catherine
Universite Grenoble Alpes (UGA)
Hingray, Benoit
Université Grenoble Alpes
Nicolet, Gilles
Université Grenoble Alpes
Raynaud, Damien
Université Grenoble Alpes
University of Zurich
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Weingartner, Rolf
University of Bern
Whealton, Calvin
Paul Scherrer Institute

UKÄ Subject classification

Water Engineering

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