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Improving hydrologic predictions of a catchment model via assimilation of surface moisture

Chen, Fan, Crow, Wade T., Starks, Patrick J., Moriasi, Daniel N.
Advances in Water Resources 2011 v.34 no.4 pp. 526
Soil and Water Assessment Tool model, evapotranspiration, groundwater flow, overland flow, prediction, rhizosphere, runoff, soil water, stream flow, watersheds, Oklahoma
This paper examines the potential for improving Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) hydrologic predictions of root-zone soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and stream flow within the 341 km2 Cobb Creek Watershed in southwestern Oklahoma through the assimilation of surface soil moisture observations using an Ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF). In a series of synthetic twin experiments assimilating surface soil moisture is shown to effectively update SWAT upper-layer soil moisture predictions and provide moderate improvement to lower layer soil moisture and evapotranspiration estimates. However, insufficient SWAT-predicted vertical coupling results in limited updating of deep soil moisture, regardless of the SWAT parameterization chosen for root-water extraction. Likewise, a real data assimilation experiment using ground-based soil moisture observations has only limited success in updating upper-layer soil moisture and is generally unsuccessful in enhancing SWAT stream flow predictions. Comparisons against ground-based observations suggest that SWAT significantly under-predicts the magnitude of vertical soil water coupling at the site, and this lack of coupling impedes the ability of the EnKF to effectively update deep soil moisture, groundwater flow and surface runoff. The failed attempt to improve stream flow prediction is also attributed to the inability of the EnKF to correct for existing biases in SWAT-predicted stream flow components.