Articles | Volume 16, issue 2
Research article
23 Feb 2012
Research article |  | 23 Feb 2012

Controls on hydrologic similarity: role of nearby gauged catchments for prediction at an ungauged catchment

S. Patil and M. Stieglitz

Abstract. Prediction of streamflow at ungauged catchments requires transfer of hydrologic information (e.g., model parameters, hydrologic indices, streamflow values) from gauged (donor) to ungauged (receiver) catchments. A common metric used for the selection of ideal donor catchments is the spatial proximity between donor and receiver catchments. However, it is not clear whether information transfer among nearby catchments is suitable across a wide range of climatic and geographic regions. We examine this issue using the data from 756 catchments within the continental United States. Each catchment is considered ungauged in turn and daily streamflow is simulated through distance-based interpolation of streamflows from neighboring catchments. Results show that distinct geographic regions exist in US where transfer of streamflow values from nearby catchments is useful for retrospective prediction of daily streamflow at ungauged catchments. Specifically, the high predictability catchments (Nash-Sutcliffe efficiency NS > 0.7) are confined to the Appalachian Mountains in eastern US, the Rocky Mountains, and the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest. Low predictability catchments (NS < 0.3) are located mostly in the drier regions west of Mississippi river, which demonstrates the limited utility of gauged catchments in those regions for predicting at ungauged basins. The results suggest that high streamflow similarity among nearby catchments (and therefore, good predictability at ungauged catchments) is more likely in humid runoff-dominated regions than in dry evapotranspiration-dominated regions. We further find that higher density and/or closer distance of gauged catchments near an ungauged catchment does not necessarily guarantee good predictability at an ungauged catchment.