Identification of factors influencing hydrologic model performance using a top-down approach in a large number of U.S. catchments

Carolina Massmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

14 Citations (Scopus)
120 Downloads (Pure)


Investigating the performance that can be achieved with different hydrological models across catchments with varying characteristics is a requirement for identifying an adequate model for any catchment, gauged or ungauged, just based on information about its climate and catchment properties. As parameter uncertainty increases with the number of model parameters, it is important not only to identify a model achieving good results but also to aim at the simplest model still able to provide acceptable results. The main objective of this study is to identify the climate and catchment properties determining the minimal required complexity of a hydrological model. As previous studies indicate that the required model complexity varies with the temporal scale, the study considers the performance at the daily, monthly, and annual timescales. In agreement with previous studies, the results show that catchments located in arid areas tend to be more difficult to model. They therefore require more complex models for achieving an acceptable performance. For determining which other factors influence model performance, an analysis was carried out for four catchment groups (snowy, arid, and eastern and western catchments). The results show that the baseflow and aridity indices are the most consistent predictors of model performance across catchment groups and timescales. Both properties are negatively correlated with model performance. Other relevant predictors are the fraction of snow in the annual precipitation (negative correlation with model performance), soil depth (negative correlation with model performance), and some other soil properties. It was observed that the sign of the correlation between the catchment characteristics and model performance varies between clusters in some cases, stressing the difficulties encountered in large sample analyses. Regarding the impact of the timescale, the study confirmed previous results indicating that more complex models are needed for shorter timescales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-20
Number of pages17
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number1
Early online date16 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • basins
  • catchment hydrology
  • large sample hydrology
  • model performance evaluation
  • rainfall–runoff modelling
  • signatures
  • ungauged


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