Date of Award

Spring 2020

Project Type


Program or Major

Civil Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Jennifer M Jacobs

Second Advisor

Jo Sias

Third Advisor

Anne Lightbody


Over the last 20 years, the amount of streamflow has greatly increased and spring snowmelt floods have occurred more frequently in the north-central U.S. In the Red River of the North Basin (RRB) overlying portions of North Dakota and Minnesota, six of the 13 major floods over the past 100 years have occurred since the late 1990s. Based on numerous previous studies as well as senior flood forecasters’ experiences, recent hydrological changes related to human modifications [e.g. artificial subsurface drainage (SSD) expansion] and climate change are potential causes of notable forecasting failures over the past decade. My dissertation focuses on the operational and scientific gaps in current forecasting models and observational data and provides insights and value to both the practitioner and the research community. First, the current flood forecasting model needs both the location and installation timing of SSD and SSD physics. SSD maps were developed using satellite “big” data and a machine learning technique. Next, using the maps with a land surface model, the impacts of SSD expansion on regional hydrological changes were quantified. In combination with model physics, the inherent uncertainty in the airborne gamma snow survey observations hinders the accurate flood forecasting model. The operational airborne gamma snow water equivalent (SWE) measurements were improved by updating antecedent surface moisture conditions using satellite observations on soil moisture. From a long-term perspective, flood forecasters and state governments need knowledge of historical changes in snowpack and snowmelt to help flood management and to develop strategies to adapt to climate changes. However, historical snowmelt trends have not been quantified in the north-central U.S. due to the limited historical snow data. To overcome this, the current available historical long-term SWE products were evaluated across diverse regions and conditions. Using the most reliable SWE product, a trend analysis quantified the magnitude of change extreme snowpack and melt events over the past 36 years. Collectively, this body of research demonstrates that human and climate impacts, as well as limited and noisy data, cause uncertainties in flood prediction in the great plains, but integrated approaches using remote sensing, big data analytics, and modeling can quantify the hydrological changes and reduce the uncertainties. This dissertation improves the practice of flood forecasting in Red River of the North Basin and advances research in hydrology and snow science.