Monte Carlo sensitivity analysis of land surface parameters using the Variable Infiltration Capacity model

Eleonora M. Demaria, Bart Nijssen, Thorsten Wagener

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

134 Citations (Scopus)


[1] Current land surface models use increasingly complex descriptions of the processes that they represent. Increase in complexity is accompanied by an increase in the number of model parameters, many of which cannot be measured directly at large spatial scales. A Monte Carlo framework was used to evaluate the sensitivity and identifiability of ten parameters controlling surface and subsurface runoff generation in the Variable Infiltration Capacity model (VIC). Using the Monte Carlo Analysis Toolbox ( MCAT), parameter sensitivities were studied for four U. S. watersheds along a hydroclimatic gradient, based on a 20-year data set developed for the Model Parameter Estimation Experiment (MOPEX). Results showed that simulated streamflows are sensitive to three parameters when evaluated with different objective functions. Sensitivity of the infiltration parameter (b) and the drainage parameter (exp) were strongly related to the hydroclimatic gradient. The placement of vegetation roots played an important role in the sensitivity of model simulations to the thickness of the second soil layer (thick(2)). Overparameterization was found in the base flow formulation indicating that a simplified version could be implemented. Parameter sensitivity was more strongly dictated by climatic gradients than by changes in soil properties. Results showed how a complex model can be reduced to a more parsimonious form, leading to a more identifiable model with an increased chance of successful regionalization to ungauged basins. Although parameter sensitivities are strictly valid for VIC, this model is representative of a wider class of macroscale hydrological models. Consequently, the results and methodology will have applicability to other hydrological models.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberD11113
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue numberD11
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2007


Dive into the research topics of 'Monte Carlo sensitivity analysis of land surface parameters using the Variable Infiltration Capacity model'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this