Articles | Volume 19, issue 6
Research article
02 Jun 2015
Research article |  | 02 Jun 2015

Comparing bias correction methods in downscaling meteorological variables for a hydrologic impact study in an arid area in China

G. H. Fang, J. Yang, Y. N. Chen, and C. Zammit

Abstract. Water resources are essential to the ecosystem and social economy in the desert and oasis of the arid Tarim River basin, northwestern China, and expected to be vulnerable to climate change. It has been demonstrated that regional climate models (RCMs) provide more reliable results for a regional impact study of climate change (e.g., on water resources) than general circulation models (GCMs). However, due to their considerable bias it is still necessary to apply bias correction before they are used for water resources research. In this paper, after a sensitivity analysis on input meteorological variables based on the Sobol' method, we compared five precipitation correction methods and three temperature correction methods in downscaling RCM simulations applied over the Kaidu River basin, one of the headwaters of the Tarim River basin. Precipitation correction methods applied include linear scaling (LS), local intensity scaling (LOCI), power transformation (PT), distribution mapping (DM) and quantile mapping (QM), while temperature correction methods are LS, variance scaling (VARI) and DM. The corrected precipitation and temperature were compared to the observed meteorological data, prior to being used as meteorological inputs of a distributed hydrologic model to study their impacts on streamflow. The results show (1) streamflows are sensitive to precipitation, temperature and solar radiation but not to relative humidity and wind speed; (2) raw RCM simulations are heavily biased from observed meteorological data, and its use for streamflow simulations results in large biases from observed streamflow, and all bias correction methods effectively improved these simulations; (3) for precipitation, PT and QM methods performed equally best in correcting the frequency-based indices (e.g., standard deviation, percentile values) while the LOCI method performed best in terms of the time-series-based indices (e.g., Nash–Sutcliffe coefficient, R2); (4) for temperature, all correction methods performed equally well in correcting raw temperature; and (5) for simulated streamflow, precipitation correction methods have more significant influence than temperature correction methods and the performances of streamflow simulations are consistent with those of corrected precipitation; i.e., the PT and QM methods performed equally best in correcting flow duration curve and peak flow while the LOCI method performed best in terms of the time-series-based indices. The case study is for an arid area in China based on a specific RCM and hydrologic model, but the methodology and some results can be applied to other areas and models.

Short summary
This study compares the effects of five precipitation and three temperature correction methods on precipitation, temperature, and streamflow through loosely coupling RCM (RegCM) and a distributed hydrological model (SWAT) in terms of frequency-based indices and time-series-based indices. The methodology and results can be used for other regions and other RCM and hydrologic models, and for impact studies of climate change on water resources at a regional scale.