Urban flood modeling with porous shallow-water equations: A case study of model errors in the presence of anisotropic porosity

Byunghyun Kim, Brett F. Sanders, James S. Famiglietti, Vincent Guinot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Porous shallow-water models (porosity models) simulate urban flood flows orders of magnitude faster than classical shallow-water models due to a relatively coarse grid and large time step, enabling flood hazard mapping over far greater spatial extents than is possible with classical shallow-water models. Here the errors of both isotropic and anisotropic porosity models are examined in the presence of anisotropic porosity, i.e., unevenly spaced obstacles in the cross-flow and along-flow directions, which is common in practical applications. We show that porosity models are affected by three types of errors: (a) structural model error associated with limitations of the shallow-water equations, (b) scale errors associated with use of a relatively coarse grid, and (c) porosity model errors associated with the formulation of the porosity equations to account for sub-grid scale obstructions. Results from a unique laboratory test case with strong anisotropy indicate that porosity model errors are smaller than structural model errors, and that porosity model errors in both depth and velocity are substantially smaller for anisotropic versus isotropic porosity models. Test case results also show that the anisotropic porosity model is equally accurate as classical shallow-water models when compared directly to gage measurements, while the isotropic model is less accurate. Further, results show the anisotropic porosity model resolves flow variability at smaller spatial scales than the isotropic model because the latter is restricted by the assumption of a Representative Elemental Volume (REV) which is considerably larger than the size of obstructions. These results point to anisotropic porosity models as being well-suited to whole-city urban flood prediction, but also reveal that point-scale flow attributes relevant to flood risk such as localized wakes and wave reflections from flow obstructions may not be resolved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)680-692
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2015


  • Anisotropic porosity
  • Dam-break flood
  • Finite volume model
  • Porous shallow water equations
  • Urban flood


Dive into the research topics of 'Urban flood modeling with porous shallow-water equations: A case study of model errors in the presence of anisotropic porosity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this