Articles | Volume 371
12 Jun 2015
 | 12 Jun 2015

Non-stationarity driven by long-term change in catchment storage: possibilities and implications

J. D. Hughes and J. Vaze

Abstract. "Non-stationarity" with reference to hydrology is a term applied to many situations (Milly et al., 2008). While climate change non-stationarity is often examined, these effects can provide a test for assumptions of runoff generation process impliedin rainfall–runoff (RR) models.

Observations from South-western Australia (SWA) over the past 40 years show a decline in rainfall and reductions in runoff. Runoff and rainfall relationships in SWA show a significant shift over the past 40 years suggesting a change in runoff generation and catchment state. This has challenged the nature of assumed runoff generation process in SWA as well as the veracity of conceptual RR model structure.

We expand on some of the lessons learned from SWA and discuss the climatic and geomorphic conditions that may make reasonable predictions of runoff very difficult with RR models calibrated in traditional ways. Catchment storage has a significant interaction with runoff generation and we examine the situations where these may change in the longer term. We suggest some strategies in terms of model structure and calibration that may improve predictive performance in such situations.