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

Mapping dominant runoff processes: an evaluation of different approaches using similarity measures and synthetic runoff simulations

Manuel Antonetti, Rahel Buss, Simon Scherrer, Michael Margreth, and Massimiliano Zappa

Abstract. The identification of landscapes with similar hydrological behaviour is useful for runoff and flood predictions in small ungauged catchments. An established method for landscape classification is based on the concept of dominant runoff process (DRP). The various DRP-mapping approaches differ with respect to the time and data required for mapping. Manual approaches based on expert knowledge are reliable but time-consuming, whereas automatic GIS-based approaches are easier to implement but rely on simplifications which restrict their application range. To what extent these simplifications are applicable in other catchments is unclear. More information is also needed on how the different complexities of automatic DRP-mapping approaches affect hydrological simulations.

In this paper, three automatic approaches were used to map two catchments on the Swiss Plateau. The resulting maps were compared to reference maps obtained with manual mapping. Measures of agreement and association, a class comparison, and a deviation map were derived. The automatically derived DRP maps were used in synthetic runoff simulations with an adapted version of the PREVAH hydrological model, and simulation results compared with those from simulations using the reference maps.

The DRP maps derived with the automatic approach with highest complexity and data requirement were the most similar to the reference maps, while those derived with simplified approaches without original soil information differed significantly in terms of both extent and distribution of the DRPs. The runoff simulations derived from the simpler DRP maps were more uncertain due to inaccuracies in the input data and their coarse resolution, but problems were also linked with the use of topography as a proxy for the storage capacity of soils.

The perception of the intensity of the DRP classes also seems to vary among the different authors, and a standardised definition of DRPs is still lacking. Furthermore, we argue not to use expert knowledge for only model building and constraining, but also in the phase of landscape classification.

Short summary
We evaluated three automatic mapping approaches of dominant runoff processes (DRPs) with different complexity using similarity measures and synthetic runoff simulations. The most complex DRP maps were the most similar to the reference maps. Runoff simulations derived from the simpler DRP maps were more uncertain due to inaccuracies in the input data and rather coarse simplifications in the mapping criteria. It would thus be worthwhile trying to obtain DRP maps that are as realistic as possible.