River Modeling in Large and Ungauged Basins: Experience of Setting up the HEC RAS Model over the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basins
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
River modeling is the processing of setting up a physically-based hydrodynamic model that can simulate the water flow dynamics of a stream network against time varying boundary conditions. Such river models are an important component of any flood forecasting system that forecasts river levels in flood prone regions. However, many large river basins in the developing world such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna (GBM), Indus, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong and Niger are mostly ungauged. Such large basins lack the necessary in-situ measurements of river bed depth/slope, bathymetry (river cross section), floodplain mapping and boundary condition flows for forcing a river model. For such basins, proxy approaches relying mostly on remote sensing data from space platforms are the only alternative. In this study, we share our experience of setting up the widely-used 1-D river model over the entire GBM basin and its stream network. Good quality in-situ measurements of river hydraulics (cross section, slope, flow) was available only for the downstream and flood prone region of the basin, which comprises only 7% of the basin area. For the remaining 93% of the basin area, we resorted to the use of data from the following satellite sensors to build a workable river model: a) Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) for deriving bed slope; b) LANDSAT/MODIS for updating river network and flow direction generated by elevation data; c) radar altimetry data to build depth versus width relationship at river locations; d) satellite precipitation based hydrologic modeling of lateral flows into main stem rivers. In addition, we referred to an extensive body of literature to estimate the prevailing baseline hydraulics of rivers in the ungauged region. We measured success of our approach by systematically testing how well the basin-wide river model could simulate river level dynamics at two measured locations inside Bangladesh. Our experience of river modeling was replete with numerous hurdles that we did not anticipate, and often required a change in plan. In this study we summarize these key hurdles faced and offer a step by step approach to setting up river models for large ungauged river basins. Such a guide can be useful for the community wishing to set up RAS type models in basins such as Niger, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Indus etc.