Paleoflood hydrology on the lower Green River, upper Colorado River Basin, USA: An example of a naturalist approach to flood-risk analysis

Tao Liu, Noam Greenbaum, Victor R. Baker, Lin Ji, Jill Onken, John Weisheit, Naomi Porat, Tammy Rittenour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Through a comprehensive paleoflood hydrological investigation we document natural evidence for at least 27 high-magnitude paleofloods at six sites on the Lower Green River, Utah. Hydraulic analysis, using the Sedimentation and River Hydraulic-2D model (SRH-2D), shows that the responsible peak paleoflood discharges ranged between 500 and 7500 m3/s. At least 14 of these paleoflood discharge peaks exceed a level twice that of the maximum systematic record of gauged flows: 1929 m3/s. Geochronological analyses, employing optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and radiocarbon dating techniques, demonstrate that these 14 largest paleoflood peaks occurred during the past 700 years. Integration of the paleoflood data into flood frequency analyses (FFA) reveals considerably higher values for the upper tails of the flood distribution than does a FFA based solely on the systematic gauged record, indicating that extreme floods are larger and more frequent than implied by the relatively short gauged record. Through examination of three approaches to extreme flood estimation – conventional FFA, probable maximum flood estimation (PMF), and paleoflood hydrology (PFH) – we show the significance of the natural evidence for advancing scientific understanding of extreme floods that naturally occur in the Colorado River system. We argue that this kind of scientific understanding is absolutely essential for achieving a credible evaluation of extreme flood risk in a watershed of immense importance to economic prosperity of the southwestern U.S.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124337
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019


  • Flood-risk analysis
  • Green river
  • Naturalist approach
  • Paleoflood hydrology
  • Upper Colorado River Basin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Paleoflood hydrology on the lower Green River, upper Colorado River Basin, USA: An example of a naturalist approach to flood-risk analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this