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Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD Dissertation Defense: Caleb DeChant
Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 2:00pm

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is pleased to announce Caleb DeChant's PhD Dissertation Defense: "Quantifying the Impacts of Initial Condition and Model Uncertainty on Hydrological Forecasts."

Date: Thursday, April 24, 2014
Time: 2:00pm
Location: Engineering Building 260
Adviser: Dr. Hamid Moradkhani

Forecasts of hydrological information are vital for many of society’s functions. Availability of water is a requirement for any civilization, and this necessitates quantitative estimates of water for effective resource management. The research in this dissertation will focus on the forecasting of hydrological quantities, with emphasis on times of anomalously low water availability, commonly referred to as droughts. Of particular focus is the quantification of uncertainty in hydrological forecasts, and the factors that affect that uncertainty. With this focus, Bayesian methods, including ensemble data assimilation and multi-model combinations, are utilized to develop a probabilistic forecasting system. This system is applied to the upper Colorado River Basin for water supply and drought forecast analysis. 
This dissertation examines further advancements related to the identification of drought intensity. Due to the reliance of drought forecasting on measures of the magnitude of a drought event, it is imperative that these measures be highly accurate. In order to quantify drought intensity, hydrologists typically use statistical indices, which place observed hydrological deficiencies within the context of historical climate. Although such indices are a convenient framework for understanding the intensity of a drought event, they have obstacles related to non-stationary climate, and nonuniformly distributed input variables. This dissertation discusses these shortcomings, demonstrates some errors that conventional indices may lead to, and then proposes a movement towards physically-based indices to overcome these issues.
A final advancement in this dissertation is an examination of the sensitivity of hydrological forecasts to initial conditions. Although this has been performed in many recent studies, the experiment here takes a more detailed approach. Rather than determining the lead time at which meteorological forcing becomes dominant with respect to initial conditions, this study quantifies the lead time at which the forecast becomes entirely insensitive to initial conditions, and estimating the rate at which the forecast loses sensitivity to initial conditions. A primary goal with this study is to examine the recovery of drought, which is related to the loss of sensitivity to below average initial moisture conditions over time. Through this analysis, it is found that forecasts are sensitive to initial conditions at greater lead times than previously thought, which has repercussions for development of forecast systems.