Machine-learning methods for stream water temperature prediction

Feigl, Moritz; Lebiedzinski, Katharina; Herrnegger, Mathew; Schulz, Karsten

Water temperature in rivers is a crucial environmental factor with the ability to alter hydro-ecological as well as socio-economic conditions within a catchment. The development of modelling concepts for predicting river water temperature is and will be essential for effective integrated water management and the development of adaptation strategies to future global changes (e.g. climate change). This study tests the performance of six different machine-learning models: step-wise linear regression, random forest, eXtreme Gradient Boosting (XGBoost), feed-forward neural networks (FNNs), and two types of recurrent neural networks (RNNs). All models are applied using different data inputs for daily water temperature prediction in 10 Austrian catchments ranging from 200 to 96 000 kminline-formula2 and exhibiting a wide range of physiographic characteristics. The evaluated input data sets include combinations of daily means of air temperature, runoff, precipitation and global radiation. Bayesian optimization is applied to optimize the hyperparameters of all applied machine-learning models. To make the results comparable to previous studies, two widely used benchmark models are applied additionally: linear regression and air2stream.

With a mean root mean squared error (RMSE) of 0.55 inline-formulaC, the tested models could significantly improve water temperature prediction compared to linear regression (1.55 inline-formulaC) and air2stream (0.98 inline-formulaC). In general, the results show a very similar performance of the tested machine-learning models, with a median RMSE difference of 0.08 inline-formulaC between the models. From the six tested machine-learning models both FNNs and XGBoost performed best in 4 of the 10 catchments. RNNs are the best-performing models in the largest catchment, indicating that RNNs mainly perform well when processes with long-term dependencies are important. Furthermore, a wide range of performance was observed for different hyperparameter sets for the tested models, showing the importance of hyperparameter optimization. Especially the FNN model results showed an extremely large RMSE standard deviation of 1.60 inline-formulaC due to the chosen hyperparameters.

This study evaluates different sets of input variables, machine-learning models and training characteristics for daily stream water temperature prediction, acting as a basis for future development of regional multi-catchment water temperature prediction models. All preprocessing steps and models are implemented in the open-source R package wateRtemp to provide easy access to these modelling approaches and facilitate further research.

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Feigl, Moritz / Lebiedzinski, Katharina / Herrnegger, Mathew / et al: Machine-learning methods for stream water temperature prediction. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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