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T. Doppler; M. Honti; U. Zihlmann; P. Weisskopf; C. Stamm (2013)
Publisher: Copernicus Publications
Journal: Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions
Languages: English
Types: Article
Subjects: DOAJ:Earth and Environmental Sciences, DOAJ:Geography, G, GE1-350, DOAJ:Environmental Sciences, GB3-5030, Geography. Anthropology. Recreation, Environmental sciences, Physical geography
Spatially distributed hydrological models are popular tools in hydrology and they are claimed to be useful to support management decisions. Despite the high spatial resolution of the computed variables, calibration and validation is often carried out only on discharge time-series at specific locations due to the lack of spatially distributed reference data. Because of this restriction, the predictive power of these models, with regard to predicted spatial patterns, can usually not be judged.

An example of spatial predictions in hydrology is the prediction of saturated areas in agricultural catchments. These areas can be important source areas for the transport of agrochemicals to the stream. We set up a spatially distributed model to predict saturated areas in a 1.2 km2 catchment in Switzerland with moderate topography. Around 40% of the catchment area are artificially drained. We measured weather data, discharge and groundwater levels in 11 piezometers for 1.5 yr. For broadening the spatially distributed data sets that can be used for model calibration and validation, we translated soil morphological data available from soil maps into an estimate of the duration of soil saturation in the soil horizons. We used redox-morphology signs for these estimates. This resulted in a data set with high spatial coverage on which the model predictions were validated. In general, these saturation estimates corresponded well to the measured groundwater levels.

We worked with a model that would be applicable for management decisions because of its fast calculation speed and rather low data requirements. We simultaneously calibrated the model to the groundwater levels in the piezometers and discharge. The model was able to reproduce the general hydrological behavior of the catchment in terms of discharge and absolute groundwater levels. However, the accuracy of the groundwater level predictions was not high enough to be used for the prediction of saturated areas. The groundwater level dynamics were not adequately reproduced and the predicted spatial patterns of soil saturation did not correspond to the patterns estimated from the soil map. Our results indicate that an accurate prediction of the groundwater level dynamics of the shallow groundwater in our catchment that is subject to artificial drainage would require a more complex model. Especially high spatial resolution and very detailed process representations at the boundary between the unsaturated and the saturated zone are expected to be crucial. The data needed for such a detailed model are not generally available. The high computational demand and the complex model setup would require more resources than the direct identification of saturated areas in the field. This severely hampers the practical use of such models despite their usefulness for scientific purposes.

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