Articles | Volume 14, issue 12
10 Dec 2010
 | 10 Dec 2010

Topographic effects on solar radiation distribution in mountainous watersheds and their influence on reference evapotranspiration estimates at watershed scale

C. Aguilar, J. Herrero, and M. J. Polo

Abstract. Distributed energy and water balance models require time-series surfaces of the climatological variables involved in hydrological processes. Among them, solar radiation constitutes a key variable to the circulation of water in the atmosphere. Most of the hydrological GIS-based models apply simple interpolation techniques to data measured at few weather stations disregarding topographic effects. Here, a topographic solar radiation algorithm has been included for the generation of detailed time-series solar radiation surfaces using limited data and simple methods in a mountainous watershed in southern Spain. The results show the major role of topography in local values and differences between the topographic approximation and the direct interpolation to measured data (IDW) of up to +42% and −1800% in the estimated daily values. Also, the comparison of the predicted values with experimental data proves the usefulness of the algorithm for the estimation of spatially-distributed radiation values in a complex terrain, with a good fit for daily values (R2 = 0.93) and the best fits under cloudless skies at hourly time steps. Finally, evapotranspiration fields estimated through the ASCE-Penman-Monteith equation using both corrected and non-corrected radiation values address the hydrologic importance of using topographically-corrected solar radiation fields as inputs to the equation over uniform values with mean differences in the watershed of 61 mm/year and 142 mm/year of standard deviation. High speed computations in a 1300 km2 watershed in the south of Spain with up to a one-hour time scale in 30 × 30 m2 cells can be easily carried out on a desktop PC.