Water Resources Research, Volume 56, Issue 9

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American Geophysical Union (AGU)
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A Brief Analysis of Conceptual Model Structure Uncertainty Using 36 Models and 559 Catchments
Wouter Knoben | Jim Freer | Murray C. Peel | Keirnan Fowler | Ross Woods

The choice of hydrological model structure, that is, a model's selection of states and fluxes and the equations used to describe them, strongly controls model performance and realism. This work investigates differences in performance of 36 lumped conceptual model structures calibrated to and evaluated on daily streamflow data in 559 catchments across the United States. Model performance is compared against a benchmark that accounts for the seasonality of flows in each catchment. We find that our model ensemble struggles to beat the benchmark in snow-dominated catchments. In most other catchments model structure equifinality (i.e., cases where different models achieve similar high efficiency scores) can be very high. We find no relation between the number of model parameters and performance during either calibration or evaluation periods nor evidence of increased risk of overfitting for models with more parameters. Instead, the choice of model parametrization (i.e., which equations are used and how parameters are used within them) dictates the model's strengths and weaknesses. Results suggest that certain model structures are inherently better suited for certain objective functions and thus for certain study purposes. We find no clear relationships between the catchments where any model performs well and descriptors of those catchments' geology, topography, soil, and vegetation characteristics. Instead, model suitability seems to relate strongest to the streamflow regime each catchment generates, and we have formulated several tentative hypotheses that relate commonalities in model structure to similarities in model performance. Modeling results are made publicly available for further investigation.

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Regional Calibration With Isotope Tracers Using a Spatially Distributed Model: A Comparison of Methods
T. Holmes | Tricia A. Stadnyk | Su Jin Kim | Masoud Asadzadeh

Accurate representation of flow sources in process‐based hydrologic models remains challenging for remote, data‐scarce regions. This study applies stable isotope tracers (18O and 2H) in water as auxiliary data for the calibration of the isoWATFLOOD™ model. The most efficient method of those evaluated for introducing isotope data into model calibration was the PA‐DDS multiobjective search algorithm. The compromise solutions incorporating isotope data performed slightly inferior in terms of streamflow simulation compared to the calibrated solution using streamflow data only. However, the former solution outperformed the latter one in terms of isotope simulation. Approximation of the model parameter uncertainty into internal flow path partitioning was explored. Inclusion of isotope error facilitated a broader examination of the total parameter space, resulting in significant differences in internal storage and flow paths, most significantly for soil storage and evapotranspiration loss. Isotope‐optimized calibration reduced evaporation rates and increased soil moisture content within the model, impacting soil water velocity but not streamflow celerity. Flow‐only calibration resulted in artificially narrow model prediction bounds, significantly underestimating the propagation of parameter uncertainty, while isotope‐informed calibrations yielded more reliable and robust bound on model predictions. Our findings demonstrate that the accuracy of a complex, spatially distributed, and process‐based model cannot be judged from one summative flow‐based model performance evaluation metric alone.

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Simulation of Preferential Flow in Snow With a 2‐D Non‐Equilibrium Richards Model and Evaluation Against Laboratory Data
Nicolas Leroux | Christopher B. Marsh | John W. Pomeroy

Recent studies of water flow through dry porous media have shown progress in simulating preferential flow propagation. However, current methods applied to snowpacks have neglected the dynamic nature of the capillary pressure, such as conditions for capillary pressure overshoot, resulting in a rather limited representation of the water flow patterns through snowpacks observed in laboratory and field experiments. Indeed, previous snowmelt models using a water entry pressure to simulate preferential flow paths do not work for natural snowpack conditions where snow densities are less than 380 kg m−3. Because preferential flow in snowpacks greatly alters the flow velocity and the timing of delivery of meltwater to the base of a snowpack early in the melt season, a better understanding of this process would aid hydrological predictions. This study presents a 2‐D water flow through snow model that solves the non‐equilibrium Richards equation. This model, coupled with random perturbations of snow properties, can represent realistic preferential flow patterns. Using 1‐D laboratory data, two model parameters were linked to snow properties and model boundary conditions. Parameterizations of these model parameters were evaluated against 2‐D snowpack observations from a laboratory experiment, and the resulting model sensitivity to varying inputs and boundary conditions was calculated. The model advances both the physical understanding of and ability to simulate water flow through snowpacks and can be used in the future to parameterize 1‐D snowmelt models to incorporate flow variations due to preferential flow path formation.