A hierarchical network-based algorithm for multi-scale watershed delineation

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Computers & Geosciences





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Watershed delineation is a process for defining a land area that contributes surface water flow to a single outlet point. It is a commonly used in water resources analysis to define the domain in which hydrologic process calculations are applied. There has been a growing effort over the past decade to improve surface elevation measurements in the U.S., which has had a significant impact on the accuracy of hydrologic calculations. Traditional watershed processing on these elevation rasters, however, becomes more burdensome as data resolution increases. As a result, processing of these datasets can be troublesome on standard desktop computers. This challenge has resulted in numerous works that aim to provide high performance computing solutions to large data, high resolution data, or both. This work proposes an efficient watershed delineation algorithm for use in desktop computing environments that leverages existing data, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Hydrography Dataset Plus (NHD+), and open source software tools to construct watershed boundaries. This approach makes use of U.S. national-level hydrography data that has been precomputed using raster processing algorithms coupled with quality control routines. Our approach uses carefully arranged data and mathematical graph theory to traverse river networks and identify catchment boundaries. We demonstrate this new watershed delineation technique, compare its accuracy with traditional algorithms that derive watershed solely from digital elevation models, and then extend our approach to address subwatershed delineation. Our findings suggest that the open-source hierarchical network-based delineation procedure presented in the work is a promising approach to watershed delineation that can be used summarize publicly available datasets for hydrologic model input pre-processing. Through our analysis, we explore the benefits of reusing the NHD+ datasets for watershed delineation, and find that the our technique offers greater flexibility and extendability than traditional raster algorithms.

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