Improving estimates of water resources in a semi-arid region by assimilating GRACE data into the PCR-GLOBWB hydrological model

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Tangdamrongsub, N. ; Steele-Dunne, S. C. ; Gunter, B. C. ; Ditmar, P. G. ; Sutanudjaja, E. H. ; Sun, Y. ; Xia, T. ; Wang, Z. (2016)

An accurate estimation of water resources dynamics is crucial for proper management of both agriculture and the local ecology, particularly in semi-arid regions. Imperfections in model physics, uncertainties in model land parameters and meteorological data, as well as the human impact on land changes often limit the accuracy of hydrological models in estimating water storages. To mitigate this problem, this study investigated the assimilation of Terrestrial Water Storage (TWS) estimates derived from the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) data using an Ensemble Kalman Filter (EnKF) approach. The region considered was the Hexi Corridor of Northern China. The hydrological model used for the analysis was PCR-GLOBWB, driven by satellite-based forcing data from April 2002 to December 2010. In this study, EnKF 3D scheme, which accounts for the GRACE spatially-correlated errors, was used. The correlated errors were propagated from the full error variance-covariance matrices provided as a part of the GRACE data product. The impact of the GRACE Data Assimilation (DA) scheme was evaluated in terms of the TWS, as well as individual hydrological storage estimates. The capability of GRACE DA to adjust the storage level was apparent not only for the entire TWS but also for the groundwater component, which had annual amplitude, phase, and long-term trend estimates closer to the GRACE observations. This study also assessed the benefits of taking into account correlations of errors in GRACE-based estimates. The assessment was carried out by comparing the EnKF results, with and without taking into account error correlations, with the in situ groundwater data from 5 well sites and the in situ streamflow data from two river gauges. On average, the experiments showed that GRACE DA improved the accuracy of groundwater storage estimates by as much as 25 %. The inclusion of error correlations provided an equal or greater improvement in the estimates. No significant benefits of GRACE DA were observed in terms of streamflow estimates, which reflect a limited spatial and temporal resolution of GRACE observations. Results from the 9-year long GRACE DA study were used to assess the status of water resources over the Hexi Corridor. Areally-averaged values revealed that TWS, soil moisture, and groundwater storages over the region decreased with an average rate of approximately 0.2, 0.1, and 0.1 cm/yr in terms of equivalent water heights, respectively. A substantial decline in TWS (approximately −0.4 cm/yr) was seen over the Shiyang River Basin in particular, and the reduction mostly occurred in the groundwater layer. An investigation of the relationship between water resources and agriculture suggested that groundwater consumption required to maintain the growing period in this specific basin was likely the cause of the groundwater depletion.
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