Articles | Volume 16, issue 11
Research article
12 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 12 Nov 2012

On the importance of appropriate precipitation gauge catch correction for hydrological modelling at mid to high latitudes

S. Stisen, A. L. Højberg, L. Troldborg, J. C. Refsgaard, B. S. B. Christensen, M. Olsen, and H. J. Henriksen

Abstract. Precipitation gauge catch correction is often given very little attention in hydrological modelling compared to model parameter calibration. This is critical because significant precipitation biases often make the calibration exercise pointless, especially when supposedly physically-based models are in play. This study addresses the general importance of appropriate precipitation catch correction through a detailed modelling exercise. An existing precipitation gauge catch correction method addressing solid and liquid precipitation is applied, both as national mean monthly correction factors based on a historic 30 yr record and as gridded daily correction factors based on local daily observations of wind speed and temperature. The two methods, named the historic mean monthly (HMM) and the time–space variable (TSV) correction, resulted in different winter precipitation rates for the period 1990–2010. The resulting precipitation datasets were evaluated through the comprehensive Danish National Water Resources model (DK-Model), revealing major differences in both model performance and optimised model parameter sets. Simulated stream discharge is improved significantly when introducing the TSV correction, whereas the simulated hydraulic heads and multi-annual water balances performed similarly due to recalibration adjusting model parameters to compensate for input biases. The resulting optimised model parameters are much more physically plausible for the model based on the TSV correction of precipitation. A proxy-basin test where calibrated DK-Model parameters were transferred to another region without site specific calibration showed better performance for parameter values based on the TSV correction. Similarly, the performances of the TSV correction method were superior when considering two single years with a much dryer and a much wetter winter, respectively, as compared to the winters in the calibration period (differential split-sample tests). We conclude that TSV precipitation correction should be carried out for studies requiring a sound dynamic description of hydrological processes, and it is of particular importance when using hydrological models to make predictions for future climates when the snow/rain composition will differ from the past climate. This conclusion is expected to be applicable for mid to high latitudes, especially in coastal climates where winter precipitation types (solid/liquid) fluctuate significantly, causing climatological mean correction factors to be inadequate.