Articles | Volume 17, issue 11
Research article
14 Nov 2013
Research article |  | 14 Nov 2013

Impact of potential and (scintillometer-based) actual evapotranspiration estimates on the performance of a lumped rainfall–runoff model

B. Samain and V. R. N. Pauwels

Abstract. Evapotranspiration (ET) plays a key role in hydrological impact studies and operational flood forecasting models as ET represents a loss of water from a catchment.

Although ET is a major component of the catchment water balance, the evapotranspiration input for rainfall–runoff models is often simplified in contrast to the detailed estimates of catchment averaged precipitation.

In this study, an existing conceptual rainfall–runoff model calibrated for and operational in the Bellebeek catchment in Belgium firstly has been validated and its sensitivity to different available potential ET input has been studied. It has been shown that when applying a calibrated rainfall–runoff model, the model input should be consistent with the input used for the calibration process, not only on the volume of ET, but also on the seasonal pattern. Secondly, estimates of the actual evapotranspiration based on measurements of a large aperture scintillometer (LAS) have been used as model forcing in the rainfall–runoff model. From this analysis, it has been shown that the actual evapotranspiration is a crucial factor in simulating the catchment water balance and the resulting stream flow.

Regarding the actual evapotranspiration estimates from the LAS, it has been concluded that they can be considered realistic in summer months. In the months where stable conditions prevail (autumn, winter and (early) spring), an underestimation of the actual evapotranspiration is made, which has an important impact on the catchment's water balance.