Bayesian recursive parameter estimation for hydrologic models

M. Thiemann, M. Trosset, H. Gupta, S. Sorooshian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

327 Scopus citations


The uncertainty in a given hydrologic prediction is the compound effect of the parameter, data, and structural uncertainties associated with the underlying model. In general, therefore, the confidence in a hydrologic prediction can be improved by reducing the uncertainty associated with the parameter estimates. However, the classical approach to doing this via model calibration typically requires that considerable amounts of data be collected and assimilated before the model can be used. This limitation becomes immediately apparent when hydrologic predictions must be generated for a previously ungauged watershed that has only recently been instrumented. This paper presents the framework for a Bayesian recursive estimation approach to hydrologic prediction that can be used for simultaneous parameter estimation and prediction in an operational setting. The prediction is described in terms of the probabilities associated with different output values. The uncertainty associated with the parameter estimates is updated (reduced) recursively, resulting in smaller prediction uncertainties as measurement data are successively assimilated. The effectiveness and efficiency of the method are illustrated in the context of two models: a simple unit hydrograph model and the more complex Sacramento soil moisture accounting model, using data from the Leaf River basin in Mississippi.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2521-2535
Number of pages15
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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