Articles | Volume 17, issue 7
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2735–2745, 2013
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2735–2745, 2013

Research article 15 Jul 2013

Research article | 15 Jul 2013

The effect of watershed scale on HEC-HMS calibrated parameters: a case study in the Clear Creek watershed in Iowa, US

H. L. Zhang1,2, Y. J. Wang1, Y. Q. Wang1, D. X. Li2, and X. K. Wang2 H. L. Zhang et al.
  • 1Key Laboratory of Soil and Water Conservation and Desertification Combating, Ministry of Education, School of Soil and Water Conservation at Beijing Forestry University, Beijing, 100083, China
  • 2State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

Abstract. In this paper, we use the Hydrologic Modeling System (HEC-HMS) to simulate two flood events to investigate the effect of watershed subdivision in terms of performance, the calibrated parameter values, the description of hydrologic processes, and the subsequent interpretation of water balance components. We use Stage IV hourly NEXRAD precipitation as the meteorological input for ten model configurations with variable sub-basin sizes. Model parameters are automatically optimized to fit the observed data. The strategy is implemented in Clear Creek Watershed (CCW), which is located in the upper Mississippi River basin. Results show that most of the calibrated parameter values are sensitive to the basin partition scheme and that the relative relevance of physical processes, described by the model, change depending on watershed subdivision. In particular, our results show that parameters derived from different model implementations attribute losses in the system to completely different physical phenomena without a notable effect on the model's performance. Our work adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that automatically calibrated parameters in hydrological models can lead to an incorrect prescription of the internal dynamics of runoff production and transport. Furthermore, it demonstrates that model implementation adds a new dimension to the problem of non-uniqueness in hydrological models.