Computing under-ice discharge: A proof-of-concept using hydroacoustics and the Probability Concept

Journal of Hydrology

, ORCID iD , ORCID iD , ORCID iD , , ORCID iD , , , , and ORCID iD



Under-ice discharge is estimated using open-water reference hydrographs; however, the ratings for ice-affected sites are generally qualified as poor. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in collaboration with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, conducted a proof-of-concept to develop an alternative method for computing under-ice discharge using hydroacoustics and the Probability Concept.

The study site was located south of Minturn, Colorado (CO), USA, and was selected because of (1) its proximity to the existing USGS streamgage 09064600 Eagle River near Minturn, CO, and (2) its ease-of-access to verify discharge using a variety of conventional methods. From late September 2014 to early March 2015, hydraulic conditions varied from open water to under ice. These temporal changes led to variations in water depth and velocity. Hydroacoustics (tethered and uplooking acoustic Doppler current profilers and acoustic Doppler velocimeters) were deployed to measure the vertical-velocity profile at a singularly important vertical of the channel-cross section. Because the velocity profile was non-standard and cannot be characterized using a Power Law or Log Law, velocity data were analyzed using the Probability Concept, which is a probabilistic formulation of the velocity distribution. The Probability Concept-derived discharge was compared to conventional methods including stage-discharge and index-velocity ratings and concurrent field measurements; each is complicated by the dynamics of ice formation, pressure influences on stage measurements, and variations in cross-sectional area due to ice formation.

No particular discharge method was assigned as truth. Rather one statistical metric (Kolmogorov-Smirnov; KS), agreement plots, and concurrent measurements provided a measure of comparability between various methods. Regardless of the method employed, comparisons between each method revealed encouraging results depending on the flow conditions and the absence or presence of ice cover.

For example, during lower discharges dominated by under-ice and transition (intermittent open-water and under-ice) conditions, the KS metric suggests there is not sufficient information to reject the null hypothesis and implies that the Probability Concept and index-velocity rating represent similar distributions. During high-flow, open-water conditions, the comparisons are less definitive; therefore, it is important that the appropriate analytical method and instrumentation be selected. Six conventional discharge measurements were collected concurrently with Probability Concept-derived discharges with percent differences (%) of −9.0%, −21%, −8.6%, 17.8%, 3.6%, and −2.3%.

This proof-of-concept demonstrates that riverine discharges can be computed using the Probability Concept for a range of hydraulic extremes (variations in discharge, open-water and under-ice conditions) immediately after the siting phase is complete, which typically requires one day. Computing real-time discharges is particularly important at sites, where (1) new streamgages are planned, (2) river hydraulics are complex, and (3) shifts in the stage-discharge rating are needed to correct the streamflow record. Use of the Probability Concept does not preclude the need to maintain a stage-area relation. Both the Probability Concept and index-velocity rating offer water-resource managers and decision makers alternatives for computing real-time discharge for open-water and under-ice conditions.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Computing under-ice discharge: A proof-of-concept using hydroacoustics and the Probability Concept
Series title:
Journal of Hydrology
Year Published:
Contributing office(s):
Colorado Water Science Center
16 p.
First page:
Last page:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Eagle River