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Observational and predictive uncertainties for multiple variables in a spatially distributed hydrological model

Ehlers, Lennart Benjamin, Sonnenborg, Torben Obel, Refsgaard, Jens Christian
Hydrological processes 2019 v.33 no.5 pp. 833-848
evapotranspiration, groundwater flow, hydrologic models, observational studies, parameter uncertainty, rain, simulation models, soil water
In this study, uncertainty in model input data (precipitation) and parameters is propagated through a physically based, spatially distributed hydrological model based on the MIKE SHE code. Precipitation uncertainty is accounted for using an ensemble of daily rainfall fields that incorporate four different sources of uncertainty, whereas parameter uncertainty is considered using Latin hypercube sampling. Model predictive uncertainty is assessed for multiple simulated hydrological variables (discharge, groundwater head, evapotranspiration, and soil moisture). Utilizing an extensive set of observational data, effective observational uncertainties for each hydrological variable are assessed. Considering not only model predictive uncertainty but also effective observational uncertainty leads to a notable increase in the number of instances, for which model simulation and observations are in good agreement (e.g., 47% vs. 91% for discharge and 0% vs. 98% for soil moisture). Effective observational uncertainty is in several cases larger than model predictive uncertainty. We conclude that the use of precipitation uncertainty with a realistic spatio‐temporal correlation structure, analyses of multiple variables with different spatial support, and the consideration of observational uncertainty are crucial for adequately evaluating the performance of physically based, spatially distributed hydrological models.