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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 13 Feb 2020

Submitted as: research article | 13 Feb 2020

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A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Complexity and performance of temperature-based snow routines for runoff modelling in mountainous areas in Central Europe

Marc Girons Lopez1,2, Marc J. P. Vis1, Michal Jenicek3, Nena Griessinger4, and Jan Seibert1 Marc Girons Lopez et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, CH-8006, Switzerland
  • 2Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, Norrköping, SE-60176, Sweden
  • 3Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Charles University, Prague, CZ-11636, Czechia
  • 4WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, CH-7260, Switzerland

Abstract. Snow processes are a key component of the water cycle in mountainous areas as well as in many areas of the mid- and high latitudes of the Earth. The complexity of these processes, coupled with the limited data available on them, has led to the development of different modelling approaches to improve their understanding and support management practices. Physically-based approaches, such as the energy balance method, provide the best representation of these processes but at the expense of high data requirements. Data limitations, in most situations, constrain the use of these methods in favour of more simple approaches. The temperature-index method is the most widely-used modelling approach of the snowpack processes for hydrological modelling, with many variants implemented in different models. However, in many cases, the decisions on the most suitable complexity of these conceptualisations are not adequately assessed for a given model structure, application, or decision-making support tool.

In this study, we assessed model structure choices of the HBV model, a popular semi-distributed, bucket-type hydrological model, for its application in mountainous areas in Central Europe. To this end, we reviewed the most widely-used choices to different components of the snow routine in different hydrological models and proposed a series of modifications to the structure of HBV. We constrained the choice of modifications to those that are aligned with HBV’s modelling approach of keeping processes as simple as possible to constrain model complexity. We analysed a total of 64 alternative snow routine structures over 54 catchments using a split-sample test. We found that using (a) an exponential snowmelt function coupled with no refreezing instead of a linear function for both processes and (b) a seasonally-variable degree-day factor instead of a constant one were, overall, the most valuable modifications to the model. Additionally, we found that increasing model complexity does not necessarily lead to improved model performance per se. Instead, we found that a thorough analysis of the different processes included in the model and their optimal degree of realism for a given application is a preferable alternative. While the results may not be transferrable to other modelling purposes or geographical domains, the methodology presented here may be used to assess the suitability of model design choices.

Marc Girons Lopez et al.

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Marc Girons Lopez et al.

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Latest update: 13 Jul 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Snow processes are crucial for runoff in mountainous areas but their complexity makes water management difficult. Temperature models are widely used as they are simple and don’t require much data but not much thought is usually given to which model to use, which may lead to bad predictions. We studied the impact of many model alternatives and found that a more complex model does not necessarily perform better. Finding which processes are most important in each area is a much better strategy.
Snow processes are crucial for runoff in mountainous areas but their complexity makes water...