Accuracy vs Realism: Does including reservoirs improve hydrological models?

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Simone van Langen, Tim van Emmerik , Lieke Melsen, Germano Gondim Ribeiro Neto, Chanoknun Wannasin


Brazil has invested considerably in the reservoir construction during the past decades, mainly for irrigation and hydro-power generation. Despite their large impact on catchment hydrology, reservoir dynamics are often not included in hydrological models due to their complexity. In this study, we investigated the effect of including reservoir dynamics (realism) in hydrological models on the model performance (accuracy). Combined, realism and accuracy form the model fidelity. We used the HBV-EC and GR4J models to simulate hydrological processes and daily streamflow of 403 catchments across Brazil in two scenarios, with and without reservoirs. The model performances were assessed with the Kling Gupta Efficiency (KGE) and its components, and were compared between the models and scenarios. We found a significant increase in the HBV-EC model performance when the reservoirs were taken into account, although the overall performance was relatively poor. The average KGE increased from 0.21 without the reservoirs to 0.40 with the reservoirs. The GR4J model, on the other hand, showed better overall performance, but without the improvement when including the reservoirs; the average KGE slightly decreased from 0.57 to 0.56. In the catchments with the largest reservoir capacity, HBV-EC in the scenario with reservoirs outperformed GR4J in both scenarios. We note that better model performance can still be obtained with a smaller spatial scale or other methods of including reservoirs, which require more data and detailed studies. With this paper, we demonstrate that model performance can improve when including reservoir dynamics, but this depends on model structure and does not always increase model fidelity.



Physical Sciences and Mathematics


socio-hydrology, human impact, reservoirs, model fidelity, HBV, GR4J


Published: 2021-07-26 12:34

Last Updated: 2021-07-26 16:34


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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