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Uncertainty in simulation of land-use change impacts on catchment runoff with multi-timescales based on the comparison of the HSPF and SWAT models

Chen, Ying, Xu, Chong-Yu, Chen, Xingwei, Xu, Youpeng, Yin, Yixing, Gao, Lu, Liu, Meibing
Journal of hydrology 2019 v.573 pp. 486-500
basins, cropland, forests, hydrologic models, land use change, parameter uncertainty, runoff, stream flow, uncertainty analysis, urban areas, watersheds, China
Hydrological modeling has provided key insights into the mechanisms of land-use change impacts on runoff. However, the uncertainty of this impact is poorly understood. This paper examines the uncertainty originated from hydrological models' parameters and structure in simulating hydrological responses to land use change on daily, monthly and annual time scales. Two hydrological models, SWAT and HSPF, were applied to simulate the runoff response in the Xitiaoxi basin of eastern China. The effects of three land use scenarios (in 1985, 2002 and 2014) were analyzed with respect to the expansion of urban areas and reduction of cropland and forests. The changes in streamflow with multi-timescales between two models were compared at the whole basin and the sub-basin scales. The parameter uncertainty was estimated based on a sequential uncertainty analysis method (SUFI-2). The results indicate that the two models (SWAT and HSPF) could reproduce the observed daily and seasonal flows well, but they cannot accurately reconstruct the extreme flows (such as annual 7-day minimum discharge, R_7dMIN). The effect of parameter uncertainty on streamflow varies over time scales. The simulated annual and monthly runoff change values show large discrepancies but with same trends. The simulated changes for annual maximum discharge (R_1dMAX) and R_7dMIN often show different signs. The average width of the predictive interval in the relative change of different flow characteristics exceeded 100% of the average relative changes for both models. HSPF tends to present larger relative changes for the annual and monthly runoffs compared to SWAT. Moreover, the model choice could affect the direction change in R_1dMAX and R_7dMIN. However, when land use change was significant to a certain degree, both models simulated increased R_1dMAX and decreased R_7dMIN, but with different significance levels. The study suggests that the model structure represents an additional uncertainty, which should be accounted for in the land-use change impact assessment.