SCS-CN parameter determination using rainfall-runoff data in heterogeneous watersheds – the two-CN system approach
Abstract. The Soil Conservation Service Curve Number (SCS-CN) approach is widely used as a simple method for predicting direct runoff volume for a given rainfall event. The CN parameter values corresponding to various soil, land cover, and land management conditions can be selected from tables, but it is preferable to estimate the CN value from measured rainfall-runoff data if available. However, previous researchers indicated that the CN values calculated from measured rainfall-runoff data vary systematically with the rainfall depth. Hence, they suggested the determination of a single asymptotic CN value observed for very high rainfall depths to characterize the watersheds' runoff response. In this paper, the hypothesis that the observed correlation between the calculated CN value and the rainfall depth in a watershed reflects the effect of soils and land cover spatial variability on its hydrologic response is being tested. Based on this hypothesis, the simplified concept of a two-CN heterogeneous system is introduced to model the observed CN-rainfall variation by reducing the CN spatial variability into two classes. The behaviour of the CN-rainfall function produced by the simplified two-CN system is approached theoretically, it is analysed systematically, and it is found to be similar to the variation observed in natural watersheds. Synthetic data tests, natural watersheds examples, and detailed study of two natural experimental watersheds with known spatial heterogeneity characteristics were used to evaluate the method. The results indicate that the determination of CN values from rainfall runoff data using the proposed two-CN system approach provides reasonable accuracy and it over performs the previous methods based on the determination of a single asymptotic CN value. Although the suggested method increases the number of unknown parameters to three (instead of one), a clear physical reasoning for them is presented.