Impact of model structure on flow simulation and hydrological realism: from a lumped to a semi-distributed approach
Abstract. Model intercomparison experiments are widely used to investigate and improve hydrological model performance. However, a study based only on runoff simulation is not sufficient to discriminate between different model structures. Hence, there is a need to improve hydrological models for specific streamflow signatures (e.g., low and high flow) and multi-variable predictions (e.g., soil moisture, snow and groundwater). This study assesses the impact of model structure on flow simulation and hydrological realism using three versions of a hydrological model called MORDOR: the historical lumped structure and a revisited formulation available in both lumped and semi-distributed structures. In particular, the main goal of this paper is to investigate the relative impact of model equations and spatial discretization on flow simulation, snowpack representation and evapotranspiration estimation. Comparison of the models is based on an extensive dataset composed of 50 catchments located in French mountainous regions. The evaluation framework is founded on a multi-criterion split-sample strategy. All models were calibrated using an automatic optimization method based on an efficient genetic algorithm. The evaluation framework is enriched by the assessment of snow and evapotranspiration modeling against in situ and satellite data. The results showed that the new model formulations perform significantly better than the initial one in terms of the various streamflow signatures, snow and evapotranspiration predictions. The semi-distributed approach provides better calibration–validation performance for the snow cover area, snow water equivalent and runoff simulation, especially for nival catchments.