Articles | Volume 14, issue 12
Opinion article
23 Dec 2010
Opinion article |  | 23 Dec 2010

HESS Opinions "Topography driven conceptual modelling (FLEX-Topo)"

H. H. G. Savenije

Abstract. Heterogeneity and complexity of hydrological processes offer substantial challenges to the hydrological modeller. Some hydrologists try to tackle this problem by introducing more and more detail in their models, or by setting-up more and more complicated models starting from basic principles at the smallest possible level. As we know, this reductionist approach leads to ever higher levels of equifinality and predictive uncertainty. On the other hand, simple, lumped and parsimonious models may be too simple to be realistic or representative of the dominant hydrological processes. In this commentary, a new approach is proposed that tries to find the middle way between complex distributed and simple lumped modelling approaches. Here we try to find the right level of simplification while avoiding over-simplification. Paraphrasing Einstein, the maxim is: make a model as simple as possible, but not simpler than that. The approach presented is process based, but not physically based in the traditional sense. Instead, it is based on a conceptual representation of the dominant physical processes in certain key elements of the landscape. The essence of the approach is that the model structure is made dependent on a limited number of landscape classes in which the topography is the main driver, but which can include geological, geomorphological or land-use classification. These classes are then represented by lumped conceptual models that act in parallel. The advantage of this approach over a fully distributed conceptualisation is that it retains maximum simplicity while taking into account observable landscape characteristics.