Articles | Volume 16, issue 11
Research article
15 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 15 Nov 2012

Assessment of the potential forecasting skill of a global hydrological model in reproducing the occurrence of monthly flow extremes

N. Candogan Yossef, L. P. H. van Beek, J. C. J. Kwadijk, and M. F. P. Bierkens

Abstract. As an initial step in assessing the prospect of using global hydrological models (GHMs) for hydrological forecasting, this study investigates the skill of the GHM PCR-GLOBWB in reproducing the occurrence of past extremes in monthly discharge on a global scale. Global terrestrial hydrology from 1958 until 2001 is simulated by forcing PCR-GLOBWB with daily meteorological data obtained by downscaling the CRU dataset to daily fields using the ERA-40 reanalysis. Simulated discharge values are compared with observed monthly streamflow records for a selection of 20 large river basins that represent all continents and a wide range of climatic zones.

We assess model skill in three ways all of which contribute different information on the potential forecasting skill of a GHM. First, the general skill of the model in reproducing hydrographs is evaluated. Second, model skill in reproducing significantly higher and lower flows than the monthly normals is assessed in terms of skill scores used for forecasts of categorical events. Third, model skill in reproducing flood and drought events is assessed by constructing binary contingency tables for floods and droughts for each basin. The skill is then compared to that of a simple estimation of discharge from the water balance (PE).

The results show that the model has skill in all three types of assessments. After bias correction the model skill in simulating hydrographs is improved considerably. For most basins it is higher than that of the climatology. The skill is highest in reproducing monthly anomalies. The model also has skill in reproducing floods and droughts, with a markedly higher skill in floods. The model skill far exceeds that of the water balance estimate. We conclude that the prospect for using PCR-GLOBWB for monthly and seasonal forecasting of the occurrence of hydrological extremes is positive. We argue that this conclusion applies equally to other similar GHMs and LSMs, which may show sufficient skill to forecast the occurrence of monthly flow extremes.