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Downsizing a long-term precipitation network: Using a quantitative approach to inform difficult decisions

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The design of a precipitation monitoring network must balance the demand for accurate estimates with the resources needed to build and maintain the network. If there are changes in the objectives of the monitoring or the availability of resources, network designs should be adjusted. At the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, USA, precipitation has been monitored with a network established in 1955 that has grown to 23 gauges distributed across nine small catchments. This high sampling intensity allowed us to simulate reduced sampling schemes and thereby evaluate the effect of decommissioning gauges on the quality of precipitation estimates. We considered all possible scenarios of sampling intensity for the catchments on the south-facing slope (2047 combinations) and the northfacing slope (4095 combinations), from the current scenario with 11 or 12 gauges to only 1 gauge remaining. Gauge scenarios differed by as much as 6.0% from the best estimate (based on all the gauges), depending on the catchment, but 95% of the scenarios gave estimates within 2% of the long-term average annual precipitation. The insensitivity of precipitation estimates and the catchment fluxes that depend on them under many reduced monitoring scenarios allowed us to base our reduction decision on other factors such as technician safety, the time required for monitoring, and co-location with other hydrometeorological measurements (snow, air temperature). At Hubbard Brook, precipitation gauges could be reduced from 23 to 10 with a change of <2% in the long-term precipitation estimates. The decision-making approach illustrated in this case study is applicable to the redesign of monitoring networks when reduction of effort seems warranted.


Green, Mark B.; Campbell, John L.; Yanai, Ruth D.; Bailey, Scott W.; Bailey, Amey S.; Grant, Nicholas; Halm, Ian; Kelsey, Eric P.; Rustad, Lindsey E. 2018. Downsizing a long-term precipitation network: Using a quantitative approach to inform difficult decisions. PLOS ONE. 13(5): e0195966-.

Last updated on: May 22, 2018