Several hydrological studies have shown that river discharge records are affected by significant uncertainty. This uncertainty is expected to be very high for river flow data referred to flood events, when the stage–discharge rating curve is extrapolated far beyond the measurement range. This study examines the standard methodologies for the construction and extrapolation of rating curves to extreme flow depths and shows the need of proper approaches to reduce the uncertainty of flood discharge data. To this end, a comprehensive analysis is performed on a 16 km reach of the River Po (Italy) where five hydraulic models (HEC-RAS) were built. The results of five topographical surveys conducted during the last 50 years are used as geometric input. The application demonstrates that hydraulically built stage–discharge curves for the five cases differ only for ordinary flows, so that a common rating curve for flood discharges can be derived. This result confirms the validity of statistical approaches to the estimation of the so-called ‘flood rating curve’, a unique stage–discharge curve based on data of contemporaneous annual maxima of stage and discharge values, which appears insensitive to marginal changes in river geometry.
Keywords: cross-sections, flood discharge, hydraulic models, observation uncertainty, rating curve