Efficient incorporation of channel cross-section geometry uncertainty into regional and global scale flood inundation models

Jeffrey C Neal*, Nick A Odoni, Mark A Trigg, Jim E Freer, Javier Garcia-Pintado, David C. Mason, Melissa Wood, Paul D Bates

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)
525 Downloads (Pure)


This paper investigates the challenge of representing structural differences in river channel cross-section geometry for regional to global scale river hydraulic models and the effect this can have on simulations of wave dynamics. Classically, channel geometry is defined using data, yet at larger scales the necessary information and model structures do not exist to take this approach. We therefore propose a fundamentally different approach where the structural uncertainty in channel geometry is represented using a simple parameterisation, which could then be estimated through calibration or data assimilation. This paper first outlines the development of a computationally efficient numerical scheme to represent generalised channel shapes using a single parameter, which is then validated using a simple straight channel test case and shown to predict wetted perimeter to within 2% for the channels tested. An application to the River Severn, UK is also presented, along with an analysis of model sensitivity to channel shape, depth and friction. The channel shape parameter was shown to improve model simulations of river level, particularly for more physically plausible channel roughness and depth parameter ranges. Calibrating channel Manning’s coefficient in a rectangular channel provided similar water level simulation accuracy in terms of Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency to a model where friction and shape or depth were calibrated. However, the calibrated Manning coefficient in the rectangular channel model was ∼2/3 greater than the likely physically realistic value for this reach and this erroneously slowed wave propagation times through the reach by several hours. Therefore, for large scale models applied in data sparse areas, calibrating channel depth and/or shape may be preferable to assuming a rectangular geometry and calibrating friction alone.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-183
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number1
Early online date23 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015


  • Flood inundation modelling
  • Large scale
  • Hydraulics
  • River channels


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