Uncertainty in design flood profiles derived by hydraulic modelling


The scientific literature has widely shown that hydraulic modelling is affected by many sources of uncertainty (e.g. model structure, input data, model parameters). However, when hydraulic models are used for engineering purposes (e.g. flood defense design), there is still a tendency to make a deterministic use of them. More specifically, the prediction of flood design profiles is often based on the outcomes of a calibrated hydraulic model. Despite the good results in model calibration, this prediction is affected by significant uncertainty, which is commonly considered by adding a freeboard to the simulated flood profile. A more accurate approach would require an explicit analysis of the sources of uncertainty affecting hydraulic modelling and design flood estimation. This paper proposes an alternative approach, which is based on the use of uncertain flood profiles, where the most significant sources of uncertainty are explicitly analyzed. An application to the Po river reach between Cremona and Borgoforte (Italy) is used to illustrate the proposed framework and compare it to the traditional approach. This paper shows that the deterministic approach underestimates the design flood profile and questions whether the freeboard, often arbitrarily defined, might lead to a false perception of additional safety levels.

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