Misrepresentation and amendment of soil moisture in conceptual hydrological modelling

Lu Zhuo*, Dawei Han

*Corresponding author for this work

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

21 Citations (Scopus)
345 Downloads (Pure)


Although many conceptual models are very effective in simulating river runoff, their soil moisture schemes are generally not realistic in comparison with the reality (i.e., getting the right answers for the wrong reasons). This study reveals two significant misrepresentations in those models through a case study using the Xinanjiang model which is representative of many well-known conceptual hydrological models. The first is the setting of the upper limit of its soil moisture at the field capacity, due to the ‘holding excess runoff’ concept (i.e., runoff begins on repletion of its storage to the field capacity). The second is neglect of capillary rise of water movement. A new scheme is therefore proposed to overcome those two issues. The amended model is as effective as its original form in flow modelling, but represents more logically realistic soil water processes. The purpose of the study is to enable the hydrological model to get the right answers for the right reasons. Therefore, the new model structure has a better capability in potentially assimilating soil moisture observations to enhance its real-time flood forecasting accuracy. The new scheme is evaluated in the Pontiac catchment of the USA through a comparison with satellite observed soil moisture. The correlation between the XAJ and the observed soil moisture is enhanced significantly from 0.64 to 0.70. In addition, a new soil moisture term called SMDS (Soil Moisture Deficit to Saturation) is proposed to complement the conventional SMD (Soil Moisture Deficit).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)637-651
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Early online date23 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

Structured keywords

  • Water and Environmental Engineering


  • Satellite soil moisture observations
  • Holding excess runoff
  • Soil moisture deficit (SMD)
  • Soil Moisture Deficit to Saturation (SMDS)
  • Xinanjiang (XAJ)
  • Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS)


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