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ARS Home » Plains Area » Temple, Texas » Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #332080


Location: Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Title: Impact of model development, calibration and validation decisions on hydrological simulations in West Lake Erie Basin

item Daggupati, Prasad
item Yen, Haw
item White, Michael
item Srinivasan, Raghavan
item Arnold, Jeffrey
item Keitzer, Conor
item Sowa, Scott

Submitted to: Hydrological Processes
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/2/2015
Publication Date: 11/28/2015
Publication URL:
Citation: Daggupati, P., Yen, H., White, M.J., Srinivasan, R., Arnold, J.G., Keitzer, C.S., Sowa, S.P. 2015. Impact of model development, calibration and validation decisions on hydrological simulations in West Lake Erie Basin. Hydrological Processes. 29:5307-5320.

Interpretive Summary: This study applied the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to the Western Lake Erie Basin to test how decisions made during the calibration process influence model results. The study found that it is important to understand and constrain watershed processes within realistic bounds even if there are no measured data to calibrate with. The study also examined the transfer of calibrated parameters between models with different resolution and models of different timeframes. Parameter transfers across resolution proved problematic, while transfers across timeframes were much more successful.

Technical Abstract: Watershed simulation models are used extensively to investigate hydrologic processes, landuse and climate change impacts, pollutant load assessments and best management practices (BMPs). Developing, calibrating and validating these models require a number of critical decisions that will influence the ability of the model to represent real world conditions. Understanding how these decisions influence model performance is crucial, especially when making science-based policy decisions. This study used the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model in West Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) to examine the influence of several of these decisions on hydrological processes and streamflow simulations. Specifically, this study addressed the following objectives (1) demonstrate the importance of considering intra-watershed processes during model development, (2) compare and evaluated spatial calibration versus calibration at outlet and (3) evaluate parameter transfers across temporal and spatial scales. A coarser resolution (HUC-12) model and a finer resolution model (NHDPlus model) were used to support the objectives. Results showed that knowledge of watershed characteristics and intra-watershed processes are critical to produced accurate and realistic hydrologic simulations. The spatial calibration strategy produced better results compared to outlet calibration strategy and provided more confidence. Transferring parameter values across spatial scales (i.e. from coarser resolution model to finer resolution model) needs additional fine tuning to produce realistic results. Transferring parameters across temporal scales (i.e. from monthly to yearly and daily time-steps) performed well with a similar spatial resolution model. Furthermore, this study shows that relying solely on quantitative statistics without considering additional information can produce good but unrealistic simulations.