Accurate estimation of velocity distribution in open channels or streams (especially in turbulent flow conditions) is very important and its measurement is very difficult because of spatio-temporal variation in velocity vectors. In the present study, velocity distribution in streams was estimated by two different artificial neural networks (ANN), ANN with conjugate gradient (ANN-CG) and ANN with Levenberg–Marquardt (ANN-LM), and two different adaptive neuro-fuzzy inference systems (ANFIS), ANFIS with grid partition (ANFIS-GP) and ANFIS with subtractive clustering (ANFIS-SC). The performance of the proposed models was compared with the multiple-linear regression (MLR) model. The comparison results revealed that the ANN-CG, ANN-LM, ANFIS-GP, and ANFIS-SC models performed better than the MLR model in estimating velocity distribution. Among the soft computing methods, the ANFIS-GP was observed to be better than the ANN-CG, ANN-LM, and ANFIS-SC models. The root mean square errors (RMSE) and mean absolute errors (MAE) of the MLR model were reduced by 69% and 72%, respectively, using the ANFIS-GP model to estimate velocity distribution in the test period.

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