U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Determining Hydrological Controls on Flood Frequency
Published: February 05, 2014
Posted: March 27, 2014

Flooding is a major natural hazard with significant societal, economic, hydrological, and ecological consequences. To improve flood frequency estimates, a recent study, led by U.S. Department of Energy scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, provides insights on the connections between flood frequency and the annual water balance. Researchers performed the study using data from several hundred catchments across the continental United States. The research expressed mean annual water balance in terms of two controlling measures: (1) the climatic aridity index (AI), which is a measure of the competition between evaporation and precipitation, and (2) the base flow index (BFI), which is a measure of total runoff partitioning into surface and subsurface components at the annual time scale. Their results showed that the AI has a first-order control on the shape of the flood frequency curve in terms of the mean and variability of the annual maximum floods. While the mean annual flood discharge decreases with increasing aridity, variability increases. In contrast, the BFI was found to exert a second-order control on the flood frequency. Higher BFI, meaning higher contributions of subsurface flow to total streamflow, leads to a decrease of the mean annual (specific) flood discharge, and vice versa. By attributing regional variations of the flood frequency curve to AI and BFI, this study provided the basis to delineate hydrological regions using the two indices for flood frequency regionalization, which may help improve flood estimation and prediction.

Reference: Guo, J., H. Li, L. R. Leung, S. Guo, P. Liu, and M. Sivapalan. 2013. “Links Between Flood Frequency and Annual Water Balance Behaviors: A Basis for Similarity and Regionalization,” Water Resources Research, DOI: 10.1002/2013WR014374. (Reference link)

Contact: Renu Joseph, SC-23.1, (301) 903-9237, Dorothy Koch, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0105
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

May 10, 2019
Quantifying Decision Uncertainty in Water Management via a Coupled Agent-Based Model
Considering risk perception can improve the representation of human decision-making processes in age [more...]

May 09, 2019
Projecting Global Urban Area Growth Through 2100 Based on Historical Time Series Data and Future Scenarios
Study provides country-specific urban area growth models and the first dataset on country-level urba [more...]

May 05, 2019
Calibrating Building Energy Demand Models to Refine Long-Term Energy Planning
A new, flexible calibration approach improved model accuracy in capturing year-to-year changes in bu [more...]

May 03, 2019
Calibration and Uncertainty Analysis of Demeter for Better Downscaling of Global Land Use and Land Cover Projections
Researchers improved the Demeter model’s performance by calibrating key parameters and establi [more...]

Apr 22, 2019
Representation of U.S. Warm Temperature Extremes in Global Climate Model Ensembles
Representation of warm temperature events varies considerably among global climate models, which has [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)