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Enhancing streamflow forecast and extracting insights using long-short term memory networks with data integration at continental scales

by   Dapeng Feng, et al.

Recent observations with varied schedules and types (moving average, snapshot, or regularly spaced) can help to improve streamflow forecast but it is difficult to effectively integrate them. Based on a long short-term memory (LSTM) streamflow model, we tested different formulations in a flexible method we call data integration (DI) to integrate recently discharge measurements to improve forecast. DI accepts lagged inputs either directly or through a convolutional neural network (CNN) unit. DI can ubiquitously elevate streamflow forecast performance to unseen levels, reaching a continental-scale median Nash-Sutcliffe coefficient of 0.86. Integrating moving-average discharge, discharge from a few days ago, or even average discharge of the last calendar month could all improve daily forecast. It turned out, directly using lagged observations as inputs was comparable in performance to using the CNN unit. Importantly, we obtained valuable insights regarding hydrologic processes impacting LSTM and DI performance. Before applying DI, the original LSTM worked well in mountainous regions and snow-dominated regions, but less so in regions with low discharge volumes (due to either low precipitation or high precipitation-energy synchronicity) and large inter-annual storage variability. DI was most beneficial in regions with high flow autocorrelation: it greatly reduced baseflow bias in groundwater-dominated western basins; it also improved the peaks for basins with dynamical surface water storage, e.g., the Prairie Potholes or Great Lakes regions. However, even DI cannot help high-aridity basins with one-day flash peaks. There is much promise with a deep-learning-based forecast paradigm due to its performance, automation, efficiency, and flexibility.


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