Simulating Runoff Under Changing Climatic Conditions: A Framework for Model Improvement

Keirnan Fowler, Gemma Coxon, Jim Freer, Muray Peel, Thorsten Wagener, Andrew Weston, Ross Woods, Lu Zhang

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

31 Citations (Scopus)
269 Downloads (Pure)


Rainfall‐runoff models are often deficient under changing climatic conditions, yet almost no recent studies propose new or improved model structures, instead focussing on model intercomparison, input sensitivity and/or quantification of uncertainty. This paucity of progress in model development is (in part) due to the difficulty of distinguishing which cases of model failure are truly caused by structural inadequacy. Here, we propose a new framework to diagnose the salient cause of poor model performance in changing climate conditions, be it structural inadequacy, poor parameterisation, or data errors. The framework can be applied to a single catchment, although larger samples of catchments are helpful to generalise and/or cross‐check results. To generate a diagnosis, multiple historic periods with contrasting climate are defined, and the limits of model robustness and flexibility are explored over each period separately and for all periods together. Numerous data‐based checks also supplement the results. Using a case study catchment from Australia, improved inference of structural failure and clearer evaluation of model structural improvements are demonstrated. This framework enables future studies to (i) identify cases where poor simulations are due to poor calibration methods or data errors, remediating these cases without recourse to structural changes; and (ii) use the remaining cases to gain greater clarity into what structural changes are needed to improve model performance in changing climate.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalWater Resources Research
Early online date1 Oct 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Oct 2018


  • rainfall‐runoff modeling
  • model improvement
  • climate change


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