On the uncertainties associated with using gridded rainfall data as a proxy for observed
Tozer, CR and Kiem, AS and Verdon-Kidd, DC, On the uncertainties associated with using gridded rainfall data as a proxy for observed, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 16, (5) pp. 1481-1499. ISSN 1027-5606 (2012) [Refereed Article]
Gridded rainfall datasets are used in many hydrological and climatological studies, in Australia and elsewhere, including for hydroclimatic forecasting, climate attribution studies and climate model performance assessments. The attraction of the spatial coverage provided by gridded data is clear, particularly in Australia where the spatial and temporal resolution of the rainfall gauge network is sparse. However, the question that must be asked is whether it is suitable to use gridded data as a proxy for observed point data, given that gridded data is inherently "smoothed" and may not necessarily capture the temporal and spatial variability of Australian rainfall which leads to hydroclimatic extremes (i.e. droughts, floods). This study investigates this question through a statistical analysis of three monthly gridded Australian rainfall datasets – the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) dataset, the Australian Water Availability Project (AWAP) and the SILO dataset. The results of the monthly, seasonal and annual comparisons show that not only are the three gridded datasets different relative to each other, there are also marked differences between the gridded rainfall data and the rainfall observed at gauges within the corresponding grids – particularly for extremely wet or extremely dry conditions. Also important is that the differences observed appear to be non-systematic. To demonstrate the hydrological implications of using gridded data as a proxy for gauged data, a rainfall-runoff model is applied to one catchment in South Australia initially using gauged data as the source of rainfall input and then gridded rainfall data. The results indicate a markedly different runoff response associated with each of the different sources of rainfall data. It should be noted that this study does not seek to identify which gridded dataset is the "best" for Australia, as each gridded data source has its pros and cons, as does gauged data. Rather, the intention is to quantify differences between various gridded data sources and how they compare with gauged data so that these differences can be considered and accounted for in studies that utilise these gridded datasets. Ultimately, if key decisions are going to be based on the outputs of models that use gridded data, an estimate (or at least an understanding) of the uncertainties relating to the assumptions made in the development of gridded data and how that gridded data compares with reality should be made.