Articles | Volume 15, issue 3
Research article
04 Mar 2011
Research article |  | 04 Mar 2011

Holistic versus monomeric strategies for hydrological modelling of human-modified hydrosystems

I. Nalbantis, A. Efstratiadis, E. Rozos, M. Kopsiafti, and D. Koutsoyiannis

Abstract. The modelling of human-modified basins that are inadequately measured constitutes a challenge for hydrological science. Often, models for such systems are detailed and hydraulics-based for only one part of the system while for other parts oversimplified models or rough assumptions are used. This is typically a bottom-up approach, which seeks to exploit knowledge of hydrological processes at the micro-scale at some components of the system. Also, it is a monomeric approach in two ways: first, essential interactions among system components may be poorly represented or even omitted; second, differences in the level of detail of process representation can lead to uncontrolled errors. Additionally, the calibration procedure merely accounts for the reproduction of the observed responses using typical fitting criteria. The paper aims to raise some critical issues, regarding the entire modelling approach for such hydrosystems. For this, two alternative modelling strategies are examined that reflect two modelling approaches or philosophies: a dominant bottom-up approach, which is also monomeric and, very often, based on output information, and a top-down and holistic approach based on generalized information. Critical options are examined, which codify the differences between the two strategies: the representation of surface, groundwater and water management processes, the schematization and parameterization concepts and the parameter estimation methodology. The first strategy is based on stand-alone models for surface and groundwater processes and for water management, which are employed sequentially. For each model, a different (detailed or coarse) parameterization is used, which is dictated by the hydrosystem schematization. The second strategy involves model integration for all processes, parsimonious parameterization and hybrid manual-automatic parameter optimization based on multiple objectives. A test case is examined in a hydrosystem in Greece with high complexities, such as extended surface-groundwater interactions, ill-defined boundaries, sinks to the sea and anthropogenic intervention with unmeasured abstractions both from surface water and aquifers. Criteria for comparison are the physical consistency of parameters, the reproduction of runoff hydrographs at multiple sites within the studied basin, the likelihood of uncontrolled model outputs, the required amount of computational effort and the performance within a stochastic simulation setting. Our work allows for investigating the deterioration of model performance in cases where no balanced attention is paid to all components of human-modified hydrosystems and the related information. Also, sources of errors are identified and their combined effect are evaluated.