A data-based comparison of flood frequency analysis methods used in France
Flood frequency analysis (FFA) aims at estimating quantiles with large return periods for an extreme discharge variable. Many FFA implementations are used in operational practice in France. These implementations range from the estimation of a pre-specified distribution to continuous simulation approaches using a rainfall simulator coupled with a rainfall–runoff model. This diversity of approaches raises questions regarding the limits of each implementation and calls for a nation-wide comparison of their predictive performances.
This paper presents the results of a national comparison of the main FFA implementations used in France. More accurately, eight implementations are considered, corresponding to the local, regional and local-regional estimation of Gumbel and Generalized Extreme Value (GEV) distributions, as well as the local and regional versions of a continuous simulation approach. A data-based comparison framework is applied to these eight competitors to evaluate their predictive performances in terms of reliability and stability, using daily flow data from more than 1000 gauging stations in France.
Results from this comparative exercise suggest that two implementations dominate their competitors in terms of predictive performances, namely the local version of the continuous simulation approach and the local-regional estimation of a GEV distribution. More specific conclusions include the following: (i) the Gumbel distribution is not suitable for Mediterranean catchments, since this distribution demonstrably leads to an underestimation of flood quantiles; (ii) the local estimation of a GEV distribution is not recommended, because the difficulty in estimating the shape parameter results in frequent predictive failures; (iii) all the purely regional implementations evaluated in this study displayed a quite poor reliability, suggesting that prediction in completely ungauged catchments remains a challenge.