Articles | Volume 18, issue 10
Research article
15 Oct 2014
Research article |  | 15 Oct 2014

Multiobjective sensitivity analysis and optimization of distributed hydrologic model MOBIDIC

J. Yang, F. Castelli, and Y. Chen

Abstract. Calibration of distributed hydrologic models usually involves how to deal with the large number of distributed parameters and optimization problems with multiple but often conflicting objectives that arise in a natural fashion. This study presents a multiobjective sensitivity and optimization approach to handle these problems for the MOBIDIC (MOdello di Bilancio Idrologico DIstribuito e Continuo) distributed hydrologic model, which combines two sensitivity analysis techniques (the Morris method and the state-dependent parameter (SDP) method) with multiobjective optimization (MOO) approach ε-NSGAII (Non-dominated Sorting Genetic Algorithm-II). This approach was implemented to calibrate MOBIDIC with its application to the Davidson watershed, North Carolina, with three objective functions, i.e., the standardized root mean square error (SRMSE) of logarithmic transformed discharge, the water balance index, and the mean absolute error of the logarithmic transformed flow duration curve, and its results were compared with those of a single objective optimization (SOO) with the traditional Nelder–Mead simplex algorithm used in MOBIDIC by taking the objective function as the Euclidean norm of these three objectives. Results show that (1) the two sensitivity analysis techniques are effective and efficient for determining the sensitive processes and insensitive parameters: surface runoff and evaporation are very sensitive processes to all three objective functions, while groundwater recession and soil hydraulic conductivity are not sensitive and were excluded in the optimization. (2) Both MOO and SOO lead to acceptable simulations; e.g., for MOO, the average Nash–Sutcliffe value is 0.75 in the calibration period and 0.70 in the validation period. (3) Evaporation and surface runoff show similar importance for watershed water balance, while the contribution of baseflow can be ignored. (4) Compared to SOO, which was dependent on the initial starting location, MOO provides more insight into parameter sensitivity and the conflicting characteristics of these objective functions. Multiobjective sensitivity analysis and optimization provide an alternative way for future MOBIDIC modeling.