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Floodplain Mapping in Data-Scarce Environments Using Regionalization Techniques

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posted on 10.06.2019 by Keighobad Jafarzadegan

Flooding is one of the most devastating and frequently occurring natural phenomena in the world. Due to the adverse impacts of floods on the life and property of humans, it is crucial to investigate the best flood modeling approaches for delineation of floodplain areas. Conventionally, different hydrodynamic models are used to identify the floodplain areas. However, the high computational cost, and the dependency of these models on detailed input datasets limit their application for large scale floodplain mapping in data-scarce regions. Recently, a new floodplain mapping method based on a hydrogeomorphic feature, named Height Above Nearest Drainage (HAND), has been proposed as a successful alternative for fast and efficient floodplain mapping at the large scale. The overall goal of this study is to improve the performance of HAND-based method by overcoming its current limitations. The main focus will be on extending the application of the HAND-based method to data-scarce environments. To achieve this goal, regionalization techniques are integrated with the floodplain models at the regional and continental scales. Considering these facts, four research objective are established to (1) Develop a regression model to create 100-year floodplain maps at a regional scale (2) Develop a classification framework for creating 100-year floodplain maps for the Contiguous United States (3) Develop a new version of the HAND-based method for creating probabilistic 100-year floodplain maps, and (4) Propose a general regionalization framework for transferring information from data-rich basins to data-scarce environments.

In the first objective, the state of North Carolina is selected as the study area, and a regression model is developed to regionalize the available 100-year Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) to the data-scarce regions. The regression model is an exponential equation with three independent variables including the average slope, the average elevation, and the main stream slope of the watershed. The results show that the estimated floodplains are within the expected range of accuracy of C>0.6 and F>0.9 for majority of watersheds located in the mid-altitude regions, but it overpredicts and underpredicts in the flat and mountainous regions respectively.

The second objective of this research extends the spatial application of the HAND-based method to the entire United States by proposing a new classification framework. The proposed framework classifies the watersheds into three groups by using seven watershed characteristics related to the topography, climate and land use. The validation results show that the average error of floodplain maps is around 14% which demonstrate the reliability and robustness of the proposed framework for continental floodplain mapping. In addition to the acceptable accuracy, the proposed framework creates the floodplain maps for any watershed within the United States.

The HAND-based method is a deterministic modeling approach to floodplain mapping. In the third objective, the probabilistic version of this method is proposed. Using a probabilistic approach to floodplain mapping provides more informative maps. In this study, a flat watershed in the state of Kansas is selected as the case study, and the performance of four probabilistic functions for floodplain mapping is compared. The results show that a linear function with one parameter and a gamma function with two parameters are the best options for this study area. It is also shown that the proposed probabilistic approach can reduce the overpredictions and underpredictions made by the deterministic HAND-based approach.

In the fourth objective, a new regionalization framework for transferring the calibrated environmental models to data-scarce regions is proposed. This framework aims to improve the current similarity-based regionalization methods by reducing the subjectivity that exists in the selection of basin descriptors. Using this framework for the probabilistic HAND-based method in the third objective, the floodplains are regionalized for a large set of watersheds in the Central United States. The results show that “vertical component of centroid (or latitude)” is the dominant descriptor of spatial variabilities in the probabilistic floodplain maps. This is an interesting finding which shows how a systematic approach can help to explore the hidden descriptors for regionalization. It is demonstrated that using common methods, such as correlation coefficient calculation, or stepwise regression analysis, will not reveal the critical role of latitude on the spatial variability of floodplains.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Civil Engineering

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Venkatesh Merwade

Additional Committee Member 2

Rao Govindaraju

Additional Committee Member 3

Dennis Lyn

Additional Committee Member 4

David Johnson