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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2018-437
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2018-437
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 21 Aug 2018

Research article | 21 Aug 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

An evaluation of the importance of spatial resolution in global climate and hydrological models based on the Rhine and Mississippi basins

Imme Benedict1, Chiel C. van Heerwaarden1, Albrecht H. Weerts2,3, and Wilco Hazeleger1,4 Imme Benedict et al.
  • 1Meteorology and Air Quality Group, Wageningen University, Droevendaalsesteeg 4, 6708 BP Wageningen, The Netherlands
  • 2Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, Droevendaalsesteeg 4, 6708 BP Wageningen, The Netherlands
  • 3Deltares, P.O. Box 177, 2600 MH Delft, The Netherlands
  • 4Netherlands eScience Center (NLeSC), Science Park 140, 1098 XG Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Abstract. To study the global hydrological cycle and its response to a changing climate, we rely on global climate models (GCMs) and global hydrological models (GHMs). The spatial resolution of these models is restricted by computational resources and therefore limits the processes and level of detail that can be resolved. We assess and compare the benefits of an increased resolution for a GCM and a GHM for two basins with long observational records; the Rhine and Mississippi basins. Increasing the resolution of a GCM (1.125° to 0.25°) results in an improved precipitation budget over the Rhine basin, attributed to a more realistic large-scale circulation. These improvements with increased resolution are not found for the Mississippi basin, possibly because precipitation is strongly depending on the representation of still unresolved convective processes. Increasing the resolution of vegetation and orography in the high resolution GHM (from 0.5° to 0.05°) shows no significant differences in discharge for both basins, likely because the hydrological processes depend highly on model parameter values that are not readily available at high resolution. Increasing the resolution of the GCM improved the simulations of the monthly averaged discharge for the Rhine, but did not improve the representation of extreme streamflow events. For the Mississippi basin, no substantial differences in precipitation and discharge were found between the two resolutions input GCM and the two resolutions GHM. These findings underline that there is no trivial route from increasing spatial resolution to a more accurately simulated hydrological cycle at basin scale.

Imme Benedict et al.
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Imme Benedict et al.
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Short summary
The spatial resolution of global climate models (GCMs) and global hydrological models (GHMs) is increasing. This model study examines the benefits of a very high resolution GCM and GHM on representing the hydrological cycle in the Rhine and Mississippi basins. We find that a higher resolution GCM results in an improved precipitation budget, and therefore an improved hydrological cycle for the Rhine. For the Mississippi, no substantial improvements are found with increased resolution.
The spatial resolution of global climate models (GCMs) and global hydrological models (GHMs) is...
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