Articles | Volume 17, issue 7
Technical note
24 Jul 2013
Technical note |  | 24 Jul 2013

Technical Note: Method of Morris effectively reduces the computational demands of global sensitivity analysis for distributed watershed models

J. D. Herman, J. B. Kollat, P. M. Reed, and T. Wagener

Abstract. The increase in spatially distributed hydrologic modeling warrants a corresponding increase in diagnostic methods capable of analyzing complex models with large numbers of parameters. Sobol' sensitivity analysis has proven to be a valuable tool for diagnostic analyses of hydrologic models. However, for many spatially distributed models, the Sobol' method requires a prohibitive number of model evaluations to reliably decompose output variance across the full set of parameters. We investigate the potential of the method of Morris, a screening-based sensitivity approach, to provide results sufficiently similar to those of the Sobol' method at a greatly reduced computational expense. The methods are benchmarked on the Hydrology Laboratory Research Distributed Hydrologic Model (HL-RDHM) over a six-month period in the Blue River watershed, Oklahoma, USA. The Sobol' method required over six million model evaluations to ensure reliable sensitivity indices, corresponding to more than 30 000 computing hours and roughly 180 gigabytes of storage space. We find that the method of Morris is able to correctly screen the most and least sensitive parameters with 300 times fewer model evaluations, requiring only 100 computing hours and 1 gigabyte of storage space. The method of Morris proves to be a promising diagnostic approach for global sensitivity analysis of highly parameterized, spatially distributed hydrologic models.