Articles | Volume 21, issue 9
Research article
14 Sep 2017
Research article |  | 14 Sep 2017

Towards improved parameterization of a macroscale hydrologic model in a discontinuous permafrost boreal forest ecosystem

Abraham Endalamaw, W. Robert Bolton, Jessica M. Young-Robertson, Don Morton, Larry Hinzman, and Bart Nijssen

Abstract. Modeling hydrological processes in the Alaskan sub-arctic is challenging because of the extreme spatial heterogeneity in soil properties and vegetation communities. Nevertheless, modeling and predicting hydrological processes is critical in this region due to its vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Coarse-spatial-resolution datasets used in land surface modeling pose a new challenge in simulating the spatially distributed and basin-integrated processes since these datasets do not adequately represent the small-scale hydrological, thermal, and ecological heterogeneity. The goal of this study is to improve the prediction capacity of mesoscale to large-scale hydrological models by introducing a small-scale parameterization scheme, which better represents the spatial heterogeneity of soil properties and vegetation cover in the Alaskan sub-arctic. The small-scale parameterization schemes are derived from observations and a sub-grid parameterization method in the two contrasting sub-basins of the Caribou Poker Creek Research Watershed (CPCRW) in Interior Alaska: one nearly permafrost-free (LowP) sub-basin and one permafrost-dominated (HighP) sub-basin. The sub-grid parameterization method used in the small-scale parameterization scheme is derived from the watershed topography. We found that observed soil thermal and hydraulic properties – including the distribution of permafrost and vegetation cover heterogeneity – are better represented in the sub-grid parameterization method than the coarse-resolution datasets. Parameters derived from the coarse-resolution datasets and from the sub-grid parameterization method are implemented into the variable infiltration capacity (VIC) mesoscale hydrological model to simulate runoff, evapotranspiration (ET), and soil moisture in the two sub-basins of the CPCRW. Simulated hydrographs based on the small-scale parameterization capture most of the peak and low flows, with similar accuracy in both sub-basins, compared to simulated hydrographs based on the coarse-resolution datasets. On average, the small-scale parameterization scheme improves the total runoff simulation by up to 50 % in the LowP sub-basin and by up to 10 % in the HighP sub-basin from the large-scale parameterization. This study shows that the proposed sub-grid parameterization method can be used to improve the performance of mesoscale hydrological models in the Alaskan sub-arctic watersheds.

Short summary
This study applies plot-scale and hill-slope knowledge to a process-based mesoscale model to improve the skill of distributed hydrological models to simulate the spatially and basin-integrated hydrological processes of complex ecosystems in the sub-arctic boreal forest. We developed a sub-grid parameterization method to parameterize the surface heterogeneity of interior Alaskan discontinuous permafrost watersheds.