Articles | Volume 4, issue 4
31 Dec 2000
31 Dec 2000

The sensitivity of catchment runoff models to rainfall data at different spatial scales

V. A. Bell and R. J. Moore

Abstract. The sensitivity of catchment runoff models to rainfall is investigated at a variety of spatial scales using data from a dense raingauge network and weather radar. These data form part of the HYREX (HYdrological Radar EXperiment) dataset. They encompass records from 49 raingauges over the 135 km2 Brue catchment in south-west England together with 2 and 5 km grid-square radar data. Separate rainfall time-series for the radar and raingauge data are constructed on 2, 5 and 10 km grids, and as catchment average values, at a 15 minute time-step. The sensitivity of the catchment runoff models to these grid scales of input data is evaluated on selected convective and stratiform rainfall events. Each rainfall time-series is used to produce an ensemble of modelled hydrographs in order to investigate this sensitivity. The distributed model is shown to be sensitive to the locations of the raingauges within the catchment and hence to the spatial variability of rainfall over the catchment. Runoff sensitivity is strongest during convective rainfall when a broader spread of modelled hydrographs results, with twice the variability of that arising from stratiform rain. Sensitivity to rainfall data and model resolution is explored and, surprisingly, best performance is obtained using a lower resolution of rainfall data and model. Results from the distributed catchment model, the Simple Grid Model, are compared with those obtained from a lumped model, the PDM. Performance from the distributed model is found to be only marginally better during stratiform rain (R2 of 0.922 compared to 0.911) but significantly better during convective rain (R2 of 0.953 compared to 0.909). The improved performance from the distributed model can, in part, be accredited to the excellence of the dense raingauge network which would not be the norm for operational flood warning systems. In the final part of the paper, the effect of rainfall resolution on the performance of the 2 km distributed model is explored. The need to recalibrate the model for use with rainfall data of a given resolution, particularly for periods of convective rain, is highlighted. Again, best performance is obtained using lower resolution rainfall data. This is interpreted as evidence for the need to improve the distributed model structure to make better use of the higher resolution information on rainfall and topographic controls on runoff. Degrading the resolution of rainfall data, model or both to achieve the smoothing apparently needed is not seen as wholly appropriate.

Keywords: rainfall, runoff, sensitivity, scale, model, flood