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Assessment of variable source area hydrological models in humid tropical watersheds

Raju, B. C. Kumar, Nandagiri, Lakshman
International journal of river basin management 2018 v.16 no.2 pp. 145-156
Soil and Water Assessment Tool model, remote sensing, runoff, stream flow, watersheds, India
The objective of this study was to compare the performances of hydrological models that incorporate the Variable Source Area (VSA) mechanism of runoff generation with that of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), which uses the infiltration-excess mechanism. One of the VSA-based model used, SWAT–VSA, has been proposed as a re-conceptualization of the SWAT and uses a topography-based wetness index to identify source areas. In this study, the topography-based wetness index was replaced with a Modified Normalized Difference Water Index (MNDWI) derived from satellite imagery resulting in the SWAT–MNDWI model. Model performances were evaluated through their application in two humid tropical watersheds (Hemavathi – 2974 km²; Harangi – 538.8 km²) located in the Upper Cauvery River Basin, India. Using relevant data inputs, the three models were applied separately to both watersheds. Models were calibrated for the historical period 2000–2003 and validated for the period 2004–2006 using observed daily observed streamflow records at the watershed outlets. Overall, the SWAT–MNDWI model was the best one in simulating daily streamflow with Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency of 0.85, coefficient of determination of 0.88, percentage bias of 13.2% and root mean square error of 37.48 m³/s for the Hemavathi watershed and corresponding values of 0.88, 0.88, 1.09% and 16.67 m³/s for the Harangi watershed. The spatial patterns of surface runoff generation were similar for the SWAT–VSA and SWAT–MNDWI models, but completely different for the SWAT model. Overall results have demonstrated that models incorporating VSA hydrology, and in particular the proposed SWAT–MNDWI model, provide accurate and convenient tools for distributed hydrologic modelling in humid tropical watersheds.