Articles | Volume 13, issue 2
Special issue:
Opinion article
18 Feb 2009
Opinion article |  | 18 Feb 2009

HESS Opinions "The art of hydrology"*

H. H. G. Savenije

Abstract. Hydrological modelling is the same as developing and encoding a hydrological theory. A hydrological model is not a tool but a hypothesis. The whole discussion about the inadequacy of hydrological models we have witnessed of late, is related to the wrong concept of what a model is. Good models don't exist. Instead of looking for the "best" model, we should aim at developing better models. The process of modelling should be top-down, learning from the data while at the same time connection should be established with underlying physical theory (bottom-up). As a result of heterogeneity occurring at all scales in hydrology, there always remains a need for calibration of models. This implies that we need tailor-made and site-specific models. Only flexible models are fit for this modelling process, as opposed to most of the established software or "one-size-fits-all" models. The process of modelling requires imagination, inspiration, creativity, ingenuity, experience and skill. These are qualities that belong to the field of art. Hydrology is an art as much as it is science and engineering.