Articles | Volume 15, issue 11
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 3411–3430, 2011

Special issue: Catchment classification and PUB

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 3411–3430, 2011

Research article 16 Nov 2011

Research article | 16 Nov 2011

Catchment classification: hydrological analysis of catchment behavior through process-based modeling along a climate gradient

G. Carrillo1, P. A. Troch1, M. Sivapalan2, T. Wagener3, C. Harman2, and K. Sawicz3 G. Carrillo et al.
  • 1University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ,, USA
  • 2University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA
  • 3Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

Abstract. Catchment classification is an efficient method to synthesize our understanding of how climate variability and catchment characteristics interact to define hydrological response. One way to accomplish catchment classification is to empirically relate climate and catchment characteristics to hydrologic behavior and to quantify the skill of predicting hydrologic response based on the combination of climate and catchment characteristics. Here we present results using an alternative approach that uses our current level of hydrological understanding, expressed in the form of a process-based model, to interrogate how climate and catchment characteristics interact to produce observed hydrologic response. The model uses topographic, geomorphologic, soil and vegetation information at the catchment scale and conditions parameter values using readily available data on precipitation, temperature and streamflow. It is applicable to a wide range of catchments in different climate settings. We have developed a step-by-step procedure to analyze the observed hydrologic response and to assign parameter values related to specific components of the model. We applied this procedure to 12 catchments across a climate gradient east of the Rocky Mountains, USA. We show that the model is capable of reproducing the observed hydrologic behavior measured through hydrologic signatures chosen at different temporal scales. Next, we analyze the dominant time scales of catchment response and their dimensionless ratios with respect to climate and observable landscape features in an attempt to explain hydrologic partitioning. We find that only a limited number of model parameters can be related to observable landscape features. However, several climate-model time scales, and the associated dimensionless numbers, show scaling relationships with respect to the investigated hydrological signatures (runoff coefficient, baseflow index, and slope of the flow duration curve). Moreover, some dimensionless numbers vary systematically across the climate gradient, possibly as a result of systematic co-variation of climate, vegetation and soil related time scales. If such co-variation can be shown to be robust across many catchments along different climate gradients, it opens perspective for model parameterization in ungauged catchments as well as prediction of hydrologic response in a rapidly changing environment.