A large sample analysis of European rivers on seasonal river flow correlation and its physical drivers

T. Iliopoulou, C. Aguilar , B. Arheimer, M. Bermúdez, N. Bezak, A. Ficchi, D. Koutsoyiannis, J. Parajka, M. J. Polo, G. Thirel, and A. Montanari, A large sample analysis of European rivers on seasonal river flow correlation and its physical drivers, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 23, 73–91, doi:10.5194/hess-23-73-2019, 2019.

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[English]

The geophysical and hydrological processes governing river flow formation exhibit persistence at several timescales, which may manifest itself with the presence of positive seasonal correlation of streamflow at several different time lags. We investigate here how persistence propagates along subsequent seasons and affects low and high flows. We define the high-flow season (HFS) and the low-flow season (LFS) as the 3-month and the 1-month periods which usually exhibit the higher and lower river flows, respectively. A dataset of 224 rivers from six European countries spanning more than 50 years of daily flow data is exploited. We compute the lagged seasonal correlation between selected river flow signatures, in HFS and LFS, and the average river flow in the antecedent months. Signatures are peak and average river flow for HFS and LFS, respectively. We investigate the links between seasonal streamflow correlation and various physiographic catchment characteristics and hydro-climatic properties. We find persistence to be more intense for LFS signatures than HFS. To exploit the seasonal correlation in the frequency estimation of high and low flows, we fit a bi-variate meta-Gaussian probability distribution to the selected flow signatures and average flow in the antecedent months in order to condition the distribution of high and low flows in the HFS and LFS, respectively, upon river flow observations in the previous months. The benefit of the suggested methodology is demonstrated by updating the frequency distribution of high and low flows one season in advance in a real-world case. Our findings suggest that there is a traceable physical basis for river memory which, in turn, can be statistically assimilated into high- and low-flow frequency estimation to reduce uncertainty and improve predictions for technical purposes.

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