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Fact Sheet 2011–3014

National Water Availability and Use Pilot Program

Using Models for the Optimization of Hydrologic Monitoring

By Michael N. Fienen, Randall J. Hunt, John E. Doherty, and Howard W. Reeves

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (1.11 MB) Introduction

Hydrologists are often asked what kind of monitoring network can most effectively support science-based water-resources management decisions. Currently (2011), hydrologic monitoring locations often are selected by addressing observation gaps in the existing network or non-science issues such as site access. A model might then be calibrated to available data and applied to a prediction of interest (regardless of how well-suited that model is for the prediction). However, modeling tools are available that can inform which locations and types of data provide the most "bang for the buck" for a specified prediction. Put another way, the hydrologist can determine which observation data most reduce the model uncertainty around a specified prediction.

An advantage of such an approach is the maximization of limited monitoring resources because it focuses on the difference in prediction uncertainty with or without additional collection of field data. Data worth can be calculated either through the addition of new data or subtraction of existing information by reducing monitoring efforts (Beven, 1993). The latter generally is not widely requested as there is explicit recognition that the worth calculated is fundamentally dependent on the prediction specified. If a water manager needs a new prediction, the benefits of reducing the scope of a monitoring effort, based on an old prediction, may be erased by the loss of information important for the new prediction.

This fact sheet focuses on the worth or value of new data collection by quantifying the reduction in prediction uncertainty achieved be adding a monitoring observation. This calculation of worth can be performed for multiple potential locations (and types) of observations, which then can be ranked for their effectiveness for reducing uncertainty around the specified prediction. This is implemented using a Bayesian approach with the PREDUNC utility in the parameter estimation software suite PEST (Doherty, 2010).

The techniques briefly described earlier are described in detail in a U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report available on the Internet (Fienen and others, 2010; This fact sheet presents a synopsis of the techniques as applied to a synthetic model based on a model constructed using properties from the Lake Michigan Basin (Hoard, 2010).

Posted May 16, 2011

  • This report is available ONLINE ONLY

For additional information contact:
Director, Wisconsin Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
8505 Research Way
Middleton, Wisconsin 53562

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Suggested citation:

Fienen, M.N., Hunt, R.J., Doherty, J.E., and Reeves, H.W., 2011, Using models for the optimization of hydrologic monitoring: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2011–3014, 6 p.

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