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The evolution of process-based hydrologic models: historical challenges and the collective quest for physical realism

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3427-3440
Number of pages14
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number7
Early online date11 Jul 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 6 Jun 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 11 Jul 2017
DatePublished (current) - Jul 2017


The diversity in hydrologic models has historically led to great controversy on the “correct” approach to process-based hydrologic modeling, with debates centered on the adequacy of process parameterizations, data limitations and uncertainty, and computational constraints on model analysis. In this paper we revisit key modeling challenges, outlined by Freeze and Harlan nearly 50 years ago, on requirements to (1) define suitable model equations, (2) define adequate model parameters, and (3) cope with limitations in computing power. We outline the historical modeling challenges, summarize modeling advances that address these challenges, and define outstanding research needs. We illustrate how modeling advances have been made by groups using models of different type and complexity, and we argue for the need to more effectively use our diversity of modeling approaches in order to advance our collective quest for physically realistic hydrologic models.

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