Typecasting catchments: Classification, directionality, and the pursuit of universality
Catchment classification poses a significant challenge to hydrology and hydrologic modeling, restricting widespread transfer of knowledge from well-studied sites. The identification of important physical, climatological, or hydrologic attributes (to varying degrees depending on application/data availability) has traditionally been the focus for catchment classification. Classification approaches are regularly assessed with regard to their ability to provide suitable hydrologic predictions – commonly by transferring fitted hydrologic parameters at a data-rich catchment to a data-poor catchment deemed similar by the classification. While such approaches to hydrology's grand challenges are intuitive, they often ignore the most uncertain aspect of the process – the model itself. We explore catchment classification and parameter transferability and the concept of universal donor/acceptor catchments. We identify the implications of the assumption that the transfer of parameters between “similar” catchments is reciprocal (i.e., non-directional). These concepts are considered through three case studies situated across multiple gradients that include model complexity, process description, and site characteristics. Case study results highlight that some catchments are more successfully used as donor catchments and others are better suited as acceptor catchments. These results were observed for both black-box and process consistent hydrologic models, as well as for differing levels of catchment similarity. Therefore, we suggest that similarity does not adequately satisfy the underlying assumptions being made in parameter regionalization approaches regardless of model appropriateness. Furthermore, we suggest that the directionality of parameter transfer is an important factor in determining the success of parameter regionalization approaches.
Smith, T; Marshall, L; McGlynn, B
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