Articles | Volume 20, issue 7
Research article
19 Jul 2016
Research article |  | 19 Jul 2016

Simultaneous calibration of hydrological models in geographical space

András Bárdossy, Yingchun Huang, and Thorsten Wagener

Abstract. Hydrological models are usually calibrated for selected catchments individually using specific performance criteria. This procedure assumes that the catchments show individual behavior. As a consequence, the transfer of model parameters to other ungauged catchments is problematic. In this paper, the possibility of transferring part of the model parameters was investigated. Three different conceptual hydrological models were considered. The models were restructured by introducing a new parameter η which exclusively controls water balances. This parameter was considered as individual to each catchment. All other parameters, which mainly control the dynamics of the discharge (dynamical parameters), were considered for spatial transfer. Three hydrological models combined with three different performance measures were used in three different numerical experiments to investigate this transferability. The first numerical experiment, involving individual calibration of the models for 15 selected MOPEX catchments, showed that it is difficult to identify which catchments share common dynamical parameters. Parameters of one catchment might be good for another catchment but not the opposite. In the second numerical experiment, a common spatial calibration strategy was used. It was explicitly assumed that the catchments share common dynamical parameters. This strategy leads to parameters which perform well on all catchments. A leave-one-out common calibration showed that in this case a good parameter transfer to ungauged catchments can be achieved. In the third numerical experiment, the common calibration methodology was applied for 96 catchments. Another set of 96 catchments was used to test the transfer of common dynamical parameters. The results show that even a large number of catchments share similar dynamical parameters. The performance is worse than those obtained by individual calibration, but the transfer to ungauged catchments remains possible. The performance of the common parameters in the second experiment was better than in the third, indicating that the selection of the catchments for common calibration is important.

Short summary
This paper explores the simultaneous calibration method to transfer model parameters from gauged to ungauged catchments. It is hypothesized that the model parameters can be separated into two categories: one reflecting the dynamic behavior and the other representing the long-term water balance. The results of three numerical experiments indicate that a good parameter transfer to ungauged catchments can be achieved through simultaneous calibration of models for a number of catchments.