How would peak rainfall intensity affect runoff predictions using conceptual water balance models?
- School of Engineering, Griffith University, Nathan 4111, Australia
Abstract. Most hydrological models use continuous daily precipitation and potential evapotranspiration for streamflow estimation. With the projected increase in mean surface temperature, hydrological processes are set to intensify irrespective of the underlying changes to the mean precipitation. The effect of an increase in rainfall intensity on the long-term water balance is, however, not adequately accounted for in the commonly used hydrological models. This study follows from a previous comparative analysis of a non-stationary daily series of stream flow of a forested watershed (River Rimbaud) in the French Alps (area = 1.478 km2) (1966–2006). Non-stationarity in the recorded stream flow occurred as a result of a severe wild fire in 1990. Two daily models (AWBM and SimHyd) were initially calibrated for each of three distinct phases in relation to the well documented land disturbance. At the daily and monthly time scales, both models performed satisfactorily with the Nash–Sutcliffe coefficient of efficiency (NSE) varying from 0.77 to 0.92. When aggregated to the annual time scale, both models underestimated the flow by about 22% with a reduced NSE at about 0.71. Exploratory data analysis was undertaken to relate daily peak hourly rainfall intensity to the discrepancy between the observed and modelled daily runoff amount. Preliminary results show that the effect of peak hourly rainfall intensity on runoff prediction is insignificant, and model performance is unlikely to improve when peak daily precipitation is included. Trend analysis indicated that the large decrease of precipitation when daily precipitation amount exceeded 10–20 mm may have contributed greatly to the decrease in stream flow of this forested watershed.