Articles | Volume 11, issue 2
05 Mar 2007
 | 05 Mar 2007

Sensitivity of point scale surface runoff predictions to rainfall resolution

A. J. Hearman and C. Hinz

Abstract. This paper investigates the effects of using non-linear, high resolution rainfall, compared to time averaged rainfall on the triggering of hydrologic thresholds and therefore model predictions of infiltration excess and saturation excess runoff at the point scale. The bounded random cascade model, parameterized to three locations in Western Australia, was used to scale rainfall intensities at various time resolutions ranging from 1.875 min to 2 h. A one dimensional, conceptual rainfall partitioning model was used that instantaneously partitioned water into infiltration excess, infiltration, storage, deep drainage, saturation excess and surface runoff, where the fluxes into and out of the soil store were controlled by thresholds. The results of the numerical modelling were scaled by relating soil infiltration properties to soil draining properties, and in turn, relating these to average storm intensities. For all soil types, we related maximum infiltration capacities to average storm intensities (k*) and were able to show where model predictions of infiltration excess were most sensitive to rainfall resolution (ln k*=0.4) and where using time averaged rainfall data can lead to an under prediction of infiltration excess and an over prediction of the amount of water entering the soil (ln k*>2) for all three rainfall locations tested. For soils susceptible to both infiltration excess and saturation excess, total runoff sensitivity was scaled by relating drainage coefficients to average storm intensities (g*) and parameter ranges where predicted runoff was dominated by infiltration excess or saturation excess depending on the resolution of rainfall data were determined (ln g*<2). Infiltration excess predicted from high resolution rainfall was short and intense, whereas saturation excess produced from low resolution rainfall was more constant and less intense. This has important implications for the accuracy of current hydrological models that use time averaged rainfall under these soil and rainfall conditions and predictions of larger scale phenomena such as hillslope runoff and runon. It offers insight into how rainfall resolution can affect predicted amounts of water entering the soil and thus soil water storage and drainage, possibly changing our understanding of the ecological functioning of the system or predictions of agri-chemical leaching. The application of this sensitivity analysis to different rainfall regions in Western Australia showed that locations in the tropics with higher intensity rainfalls are more likely to have differences in infiltration excess predictions with different rainfall resolutions and that a general understanding of the prevailing rainfall conditions and the soil's infiltration capacity can help in deciding whether high rainfall resolutions (below 1 h) are required for accurate surface runoff predictions.