Can CHIRPS fill the gap left by the decline in the availability of rainfall stations in Southern Africa?
Rainfall is the most important input to any hydrological or water resources study. The decline in the number of suitable rainfall stations since the 1970s is a cause for concern, plus there is an additional complication in that – for a number of catchments – mean annual precipitation (MAP), as derived from a recent study by Pegram, differs substantially from those adopted by the Water Resources of South Africa, 2012 study (WR2012) (mostly as derived by Dent). Rainfall data sourced by the Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station data (CHIRPS) satellite database was selected as a basis for comparison, both for catchment MAP and time series of monthly rainfall as used for input to the Pitman hydrological model (WRSM/Pitman, previously called WRSM2000). The analyses revealed that the WR2012 method of constructing the time series yielded the best results overall, but the difference was not marked, except in the winter rainfall region, where CHIRPS (and to a lesser extent, Pegram) performed poorly. It is concluded that CHIRPS will have a role to play in future water resources studies. It is recommended that the study be extended to cover a larger sample of catchments with up-to-date rainfall and that the possibility of CHIRPS data being recalibrated for the winter rainfall area be investigated.
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