Diagnostic evaluation of multiple hypotheses of hydrological behaviour in a limits-of-acceptability framework for 24 UK catchments

G. Coxon, J. Freer, T. Wagener, N. A. Odoni, M. Clark*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Testing competing conceptual model hypotheses in hydrology is complicated by uncertainties from a wide range of sources, which result in multiple simulations that explain catchment behaviour. In this study, the limits of acceptability uncertainty analysis approach used to discriminate between 78 competing hypotheses in the Framework for Understanding Structural Errors for 24 catchments in the UK. During model evaluation, we test the model's ability to represent observed catchment dynamics and processes by defining key hydrologic signatures and time step-based metrics from the observed discharge time series. We explicitly account for uncertainty in the evaluation data by constructing uncertainty bounds from errors in the stage-discharge rating curve relationship. Our study revealed large differences in model performance both between catchments and depending on the type of diagnostic used to constrain the simulations. Model performance varied with catchment characteristics and was best in wet catchments with a simple rainfall-runoff relationship. The analysis showed that the value of different diagnostics in constraining catchment response and discriminating between competing conceptual hypotheses varies according to catchment characteristics. The information content held within water balance signatures was found to better capture catchment dynamics in chalk catchments, where catchment behaviour is predominantly controlled by seasonal and annual changes in rainfall, whereas the information content in the flow-duration curve and time-step performance metrics was able to better capture the dynamics of rainfall-driven catchments. We also investigate the effect of model structure on model performance and demonstrate its (in)significance in reproducing catchment dynamics for different catchments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6135-6150
Number of pages16
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Discharge uncertainty
  • Flexible modelling frameworks
  • Limits of acceptability
  • Model diagnostics
  • Signatures


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