DOI: 10.2166/hydro.2023.030 ISSN:

Machine learning-enabled calibration of river routing model parameters

Ying Zhao, Mayank Chadha, Nicholas Olsen, Elissa Yeates, Josh Turner, Guga Gugaratshan, Guofeng Qian, Michael D. Todd, Zhen Hu
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


Streamflow prediction of rivers is crucial for making decisions in watershed and inland waterways management. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) uses a river routing model called RAPID to predict water discharges for thousands of rivers in the network for watershed and inland waterways management. However, the calibration of hydrological streamflow parameters in RAPID is time-consuming and requires streamflow measurement data which may not be available for some ungauged locations. In this study, we aim to address the calibration aspect of the RAPID model by exploring machine learning (ML)-based methods to facilitate efficient calibration of hydrological model parameters without the need for streamflow measurements. Various ML models are constructed and compared to learn a relationship between hydrological model parameters and various river parameters, such as length, slope, catchment size, percentage of vegetation, and elevation contours. The studied ML models include Gaussian process regression, Gaussian mixture copula, Random Forest, and XGBoost. This study has shown that ML models that are carefully constructed by considering causal and sensitive input features offer a potential approach that not only obtains calibrated hydrological model parameters with reasonable accuracy but also bypasses the current calibration challenges.

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