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Integrated Flood Modeling for Improved Understanding of River-Floodplain Hydrodynamics: Moving beyond Traditional Flood Mapping

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posted on 15.08.2019 by Siddharth Saksena
With increasing focus on large scale planning and allocation of resources for protection against future flood risk, it is necessary to analyze and improve the deficiencies in the conventional flood modeling approach through a better understanding of the interactions between river hydrodynamics and subsurface processes. Recent studies have shown that it is possible to improve the flood inundation modeling and mapping using physically-based integrated models that incorporate observable data through assimilation and simulate hydrologic fluxes using the fundamental laws of conservation of mass at multiple spatiotemporal scales. However, despite the significance of integrated modeling in hydrology, it has received relatively less attention within the context of flood hazard. The overall aim of this dissertation is to study the heterogeneity in complex physical processes that govern the watershed response during flooding and incorporate these effects in integrated models across large scales for improved flood risk estimation. Specifically, this dissertation addresses the following questions: (1) Can physical process incorporation using integrated models improve the characterization of antecedent conditions and increase the accuracy of the watershed response to flood events? (2) What factors need to be considered for characterizing scale-dependent physical processes in integrated models across large watersheds? (3) How can the computational efficiency and process representation be improved for modeling flood events at large scales? (4) Can the applicability of integrated models be improved for capturing the hydrodynamics of unprecedented flood events in complex urban systems?

To understand the combined effect of surface-subsurface hydrology and hydrodynamics on streamflow generation and subsequent inundation during floods, the first objective incorporates an integrated surface water-groundwater (SW-GW) modeling approach for simulating flood conditions. The results suggest that an integrated model provides a more realistic simulation of flood hydrodynamics for different antecedent soil conditions. Overall, the findings suggest that the current practice of simulating floods which assumes an impervious surface may not be providing realistic estimates of flood inundation, and that an integrated approach incorporating all the hydrologic and hydraulic processes in the river system must be adopted.

The second objective focuses on providing solutions to better characterize scale-dependent processes in integrated models by comparing two model structures across two spatial scales and analyzing the changes in flood responses. The results indicate that since the characteristic length scales of GW processes are larger than SW processes, the intrinsic scale (or resolution) of GW in integrated models should be coarser when compared to SW. The results also highlight the degradation of streamflow prediction using a single channel roughness when the stream length scales are increased. A distributed channel roughness variable along the stream length improves the modeled basin response. Further, the results highlight the ability of a dimensionless parameter 𝜂1, representing the ratio of the reach length in the study region to maximum length of the single stream draining at that point, for identifying which streams may require a distributed channel roughness.

The third objective presents a hybrid flood modeling approach that incorporates the advantages of both loosely-coupled (‘downward’) and integrated (‘upward’) modeling approaches by coupling empirically-based and physically-based approaches within a watershed. The computational efficiency and accuracy of the proposed hybrid modeling approach is tested across three watersheds in Indiana using multiple flood events and comparing the results with fully- integrated models. Overall, the hybrid modeling approach results in a performance comparable to a fully-integrated approach but at a much higher computational efficiency, while at the same time, providing objective-oriented flexibility to the modeler.

The fourth objective presents a physically-based but computationally-efficient approach for modeling unprecedented flood events at large scales in complex urban systems. The application of the proposed approach results in accurate simulation of large scale flood hydrodynamics which is shown using Hurricane Harvey as the test case. The results also suggest that the ability to control the mesh development using the proposed flexible model structure for incorporating important physical and hydraulic features is as important as integration of distributed hydrology and hydrodynamics.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Civil Engineering

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Venkatesh Merwade

Additional Committee Member 2

Dennis Lyn

Additional Committee Member 3

Sara McMillan

Additional Committee Member 4

Marty Frisbee