Development of a framework for an integrated time-varying agrohydrological forecast system for southern Africa.
Ghile, Yonas Beyene.
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Policy makers, water managers, farmers and many other sectors of the society in southern Africa are confronting increasingly complex decisions as a result of the marked day-to-day, intra-seasonal and inter-annual variability of climate. Hence, forecasts of hydro-climatic variables with lead times of days to seasons ahead are becoming increasingly important to them in making more informed risk-based management decisions. With improved representations of atmospheric processes and advances in computer technology, a major improvement has been made by institutions such as the South African Weather Service, the University of Pretoria and the University of Cape Town in forecasting southern Africa’s weather at short lead times and its various climatic statistics for longer time ranges. In spite of these improvements, the operational utility of weather and climate forecasts, especially in agricultural and water management decision making, is still limited. This is so mainly because of a lack of reliability in their accuracy and the fact that they are not suited directly to the requirements of agrohydrological models with respect to their spatial and temporal scales and formats. As a result, the need has arisen to develop a GIS based framework in which the “translation” of weather and climate forecasts into more tangible agrohydrological forecasts such as streamflows, reservoir levels or crop yields is facilitated for enhanced economic, environmental and societal decision making over southern Africa in general, and in selected catchments in particular. This study focuses on the development of such a framework. As a precursor to describing and evaluating this framework, however, one important objective was to review the potential impacts of climate variability on water resources and agriculture, as well as assessing current approaches to managing climate variability and minimising risks from a hydrological perspective. With the aim of understanding the broad range of forecasting systems, the review was extended to the current state of hydro-climatic forecasting techniques and their potential applications in order to reduce vulnerability in the management of water resources and agricultural systems. This was followed by a brief review of some challenges and approaches to maximising benefits from these hydro-climatic forecasts. A GIS based framework has been developed to serve as an aid to process all the computations required to translate near real time rainfall fields estimated by remotely sensed tools, as well as daily rainfall forecasts with a range of lead times provided by Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models into daily quantitative values which are suitable for application with hydrological or crop models. Another major component of the framework was the development of two methodologies, viz. the Historical Sequence Method and the Ensemble Re-ordering Based Method for the translation of a triplet of categorical monthly and seasonal rainfall forecasts (i.e. Above, Near and Below Normal) into daily quantitative values, as such a triplet of probabilities cannot be applied in its original published form into hydrological/crop models which operate on a daily time step. The outputs of various near real time observations, of weather and climate models, as well as of downscaling methodologies were evaluated against observations in the Mgeni catchment in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, both in terms of rainfall characteristics as well as of streamflows simulated with the daily time step ACRU model. A comparative study of rainfall derived from daily reporting raingauges, ground based radars, satellites and merged fields indicated that the raingauge and merged rainfall fields displayed relatively realistic results and they may be used to simulate the “now state” of a catchment at the beginning of a forecast period. The performance of three NWP models, viz. the C-CAM, UM and NCEP-MRF, were found to vary from one event to another. However, the C-CAM model showed a general tendency of under-estimation whereas the UM and NCEP-MRF models suffered from significant over-estimation of the summer rainfall over the Mgeni catchment. Ensembles of simulated streamflows with the ACRU model using ensembles of rainfalls derived from both the Historical Sequence Method and the Ensemble Re-ordering Based Method showed reasonably good results for most of the selected months and seasons for which they were tested, which indicates that the two methods of transforming categorical seasonal forecasts into ensembles of daily quantitative rainfall values are useful for various agrohydrological applications in South Africa and possibly elsewhere. The use of the Ensemble Re-ordering Based Method was also found to be quite effective in generating the transitional probabilities of rain days and dry days as well as the persistence of dry and wet spells within forecast cycles, all of which are important in the evaluation and forecasting of streamflows and crop yields, as well as droughts and floods. Finally, future areas of research which could facilitate the practical implementation of the framework were identified.