What Role Does Hydrological Science Play in the Age of Machine Learning?

Grey S. Nearing, Frederik Kratzert, Alden Keefe Sampson, Craig S. Pelissier, Daniel Klotz, Jonathan M. Frame, Cristina Prieto, Hoshin V. Gupta

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

229 Scopus citations


This paper is derived from a keynote talk given at the Google's 2020 Flood Forecasting Meets Machine Learning Workshop. Recent experiments applying deep learning to rainfall-runoff simulation indicate that there is significantly more information in large-scale hydrological data sets than hydrologists have been able to translate into theory or models. While there is a growing interest in machine learning in the hydrological sciences community, in many ways, our community still holds deeply subjective and nonevidence-based preferences for models based on a certain type of “process understanding” that has historically not translated into accurate theory, models, or predictions. This commentary is a call to action for the hydrology community to focus on developing a quantitative understanding of where and when hydrological process understanding is valuable in a modeling discipline increasingly dominated by machine learning. We offer some potential perspectives and preliminary examples about how this might be accomplished.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020WR028091
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Deep Learning
  • Machine Learning
  • Modeling
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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