Articles | Volume 16, issue 6
Research article
25 Jun 2012
Research article |  | 25 Jun 2012

Improving runoff estimates from regional climate models: a performance analysis in Spain

D. González-Zeas, L. Garrote, A. Iglesias, and A. Sordo-Ward

Abstract. An important step to assess water availability is to have monthly time series representative of the current situation. In this context, a simple methodology is presented for application in large-scale studies in regions where a properly calibrated hydrologic model is not available, using the output variables simulated by regional climate models (RCMs) of the European project PRUDENCE under current climate conditions (period 1961–1990). The methodology compares different interpolation methods and alternatives to generate annual times series that minimise the bias with respect to observed values. The objective is to identify the best alternative to obtain bias-corrected, monthly runoff time series from the output of RCM simulations. This study uses information from 338 basins in Spain that cover the entire mainland territory and whose observed values of natural runoff have been estimated by the distributed hydrological model SIMPA. Four interpolation methods for downscaling runoff to the basin scale from 10 RCMs are compared with emphasis on the ability of each method to reproduce the observed behaviour of this variable. The alternatives consider the use of the direct runoff of the RCMs and the mean annual runoff calculated using five functional forms of the aridity index, defined as the ratio between potential evapotranspiration and precipitation. In addition, the comparison with respect to the global runoff reference of the UNH/GRDC dataset is evaluated, as a contrast of the "best estimator" of current runoff on a large scale. Results show that the bias is minimised using the direct original interpolation method and the best alternative for bias correction of the monthly direct runoff time series of RCMs is the UNH/GRDC dataset, although the formula proposed by Schreiber (1904) also gives good results.