In the present study, two non-linear mathematical modelling approaches, namely, extreme learning machine (ELM) and multilayer perceptron neural network (MLPNN) were developed to predict daily dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations. Water quality data from four urban rivers in the backwater zone of the Three Gorges Reservoir, China were used. The water quality data selected consisted of daily observed water temperature, pH, permanganate index, ammonia nitrogen, electrical conductivity, chemical oxygen demand, total nitrogen, total phosphorus and DO. The accuracy of the ELM model was compared with the standard MLPNN using several error statistics such as root mean squared error, mean absolute error, the coefficient of correlation and the Willmott index of agreement. Results showed that the ELM and MLPNN models perform well for the Wubu River, acceptably for the Yipin River and moderately for the Huaxi River, while poor model performance was obtained at the Tributary of Huaxi River. Model performance is negatively correlated with pollution level in each river. The MLPNN model slightly outperforms the ELM model in DO prediction. Overall, it can be concluded that MLPNN and ELM models can be applied for DO prediction in low-impacted rivers, while they may not be appropriate for DO modelling for highly polluted rivers.

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