Indian Forum for Water Adroit

Demonstrating the “unit hydrograph” and flow routing processes involving active student participatio

Pankaj Dey

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  • Institute : Indian Institute of Science
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Demonstrating the “unit hydrograph” and flow routing processes involving active student participation – a university lecture experiment

 The unit hydrograph (UH) has been one of the most widely employed hydrological modelling techniques to predict rainfall–runoff behaviour of hydrological catchments, and is still used to this day. Its concept is based on the idea that a unit of effective precipitation per time unit (e.g. mm h−1) will always lead to a specific catchment response in runoff. Given its relevance, the UH is an important topic that is addressed in most (engineering) hydrology courses at all academic levels. While the principles of the UH seem to be simple and easy to understand, teaching experiences in the past suggest strong difficulties in students' perception of the UH theory and application. In order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the theory and application of the UH for students, we developed a simple and cheap lecture theatre experiment which involved active student participation. The seating of the students in the lecture theatre represented the hydrological catchment in its size and form. A set of plastic balls, prepared with a piece of magnetic strip to be tacked to any white/black board, each represented a unit amount of effective precipitation. The balls are evenly distributed over the lecture theatre and routed by some given rules down the catchment to the catchment outlet, where the resulting hydrograph is monitored and illustrated at the black/white board. The experiment allowed an illustration of the underlying principles of the UH, including stationarity, linearity, and superposition of the generated runoff and subsequent routing. In addition, some variations of the experimental setup extended the UH concept to demonstrate the impact of elevation, different runoff regimes, and non-uniform precipitation events on the resulting hydrograph. In summary, our own experience in the classroom, a first set of student exams, as well as student feedback and formal evaluation suggest that the integration of such an experiment deepened the learning experience by active participation. The experiment also initialized a more experienced based discussion of the theory and assumptions behind the UH. Finally, the experiment was a welcome break within a 3 h lecture setting, and great fun to prepare and run.

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