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Estimating Watershed Subsurface Permeability From Stream Discharge Data Using Deep Neural Networks...

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Frontiers in Earth Science
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Subsurface permeability is a key parameter in watershed models that controls the contribution from the subsurface flow to stream flows. Since the permeability is difficult and expensive to measure directly at the spatial extent and resolution required by fully distributed watershed models, estimation through inverse modeling has had a long history in subsurface hydrology. The wide availability of stream surface flow data, compared to groundwater monitoring data, provides a new data source to infer soil and geologic properties using integrated surface and subsurface hydrologic models. As most of the existing methods have shown difficulty in dealing with highly nonlinear inverse problems, we explore the use of deep neural networks for inversion owing to their successes in mapping complex, highly nonlinear relationships. We train various deep neural network (DNN) models with different architectures to predict subsurface permeability from stream discharge hydrograph at the watershed outlet. The training data are obtained from ensemble simulations of hydrographs corresponding to an permeability ensemble using a fully-distributed, integrated surface-subsurface hydrologic model. The trained model is then applied to estimate the permeability of the real watershed using its observed hydrograph at the outlet. Our study demonstrates that the permeabilities of the soil and geologic facies that make significant contributions to the outlet discharge can be more accurately estimated from the discharge data. Their estimations are also more robust with observation errors. Compared to the traditional ensemble smoother method, DNNs show stronger performance in capturing the nonlinear relationship between permeability and stream hydrograph to accurately estimate permeability. Our study sheds new light on the value of the emerging deep learning methods in assisting integrated watershed modeling by improving parameter estimation, which will eventually reduce the uncertainty in predictive watershed models.