Articles | Volume 15, issue 8
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2481–2494, 2011
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2481–2494, 2011

Research article 11 Aug 2011

Research article | 11 Aug 2011

Large-scale runoff generation – parsimonious parameterisation using high-resolution topography

L. Gong2,1, S. Halldin2, and C.-Y. Xu2,3 L. Gong et al.
  • 1Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Bert Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Villavägen 16, 75236 Uppsala, Sweden
  • 3Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1047 Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway

Abstract. World water resources have primarily been analysed by global-scale hydrological models in the last decades. Runoff generation in many of these models are based on process formulations developed at catchments scales. The division between slow runoff (baseflow) and fast runoff is primarily governed by slope and spatial distribution of effective water storage capacity, both acting at very small scales. Many hydrological models, e.g. VIC, account for the spatial storage variability in terms of statistical distributions; such models are generally proven to perform well. The statistical approaches, however, use the same runoff-generation parameters everywhere in a basin. The TOPMODEL concept, on the other hand, links the effective maximum storage capacity with real-world topography. Recent availability of global high-quality, high-resolution topographic data makes TOPMODEL attractive as a basis for a physically-based runoff-generation algorithm at large scales, even if its assumptions are not valid in flat terrain or for deep groundwater systems. We present a new runoff-generation algorithm for large-scale hydrology based on TOPMODEL concepts intended to overcome these problems. The TRG (topography-derived runoff generation) algorithm relaxes the TOPMODEL equilibrium assumption so baseflow generation is not tied to topography. TRG only uses the topographic index to distribute average storage to each topographic index class. The maximum storage capacity is proportional to the range of topographic index and is scaled by one parameter. The distribution of storage capacity within large-scale grid cells is obtained numerically through topographic analysis. The new topography-derived distribution function is then inserted into a runoff-generation framework similar VIC's. Different basin parts are parameterised by different storage capacities, and different shapes of the storage-distribution curves depend on their topographic characteristics. The TRG algorithm is driven by the HydroSHEDS dataset with a resolution of 3" (around 90 m at the equator). The TRG algorithm was validated against the VIC algorithm in a common model framework in 3 river basins in different climates. The TRG algorithm performed equally well or marginally better than the VIC algorithm with one less parameter to be calibrated. The TRG algorithm also lacked equifinality problems and offered a realistic spatial pattern for runoff generation and evaporation.