An algorithm for computing moments-based flood quantile estimates when historical flood information is available

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This paper presents the expected moments algorithm (EMA), a simple and efficient method for incorporating historical and paleoflood information into flood frequency studies. EMA can utilize three types of at-site flood information: systematic stream gage record: information about the magnitude of historical floods; and knowledge of the number of years in the historical period when no large flood occurred. EMA employs an iterative procedure to compute method-of-moments parameter estimates. Initial parameter estimates are calculated from systematic stream gage data. These moments are then updated by including the measured historical peaks and the expected moments, given the previously estimated parameters of the below-threshold floods from the historical period. The updated moments result in new parameter estimates, and the last two steps are repeated until the algorithm converges. Monte Carlo simulations compare EMA, Bulletin 17B's [United States Water Resources Council, 1982] historically weighted moments adjustment, and maximum likelihood estimators when fitting the three parameters of the log-Pearson type III distribution. These simulations demonstrate that EMA is more efficient than the Bulletin 17B method, and that it is nearly as efficient as maximum likelihood estimation (MLE). The experiments also suggest that EMA has two advantages over MLE when dealing with the log-Pearson type III distribution: It appears that EMA estimates always exist and that they are unique, although neither result has been proven. EMA can be used with binomial or interval-censored data and with any distributional family amenable to method-of-moments estimation.




Cohn, T. A., Lane, W. L., & Baier, W. G. (1997). An algorithm for computing moments-based flood quantile estimates when historical flood information is available. Water Resources Research, 33(9), 2089–2096.

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