Advances in Quantifying Streamflow Variability Across Continental Scales: 1. Identifying Natural and Anthropogenic Controlling Factors in the USA Using a Spatially Explicit Modeling Method

Richard B. Alexander, Gregory E. Schwarz, Elizabeth W. Boyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Despite considerable progress in hydrological modeling, challenges remain in the interpretation and accurate transfer of hydrological information across watersheds and scales. In the conterminous United States (CONUS), these limitations are related to spatial inconsistencies and constraints in hydrological model structures, including a lack of spatially explicit process components (streams, reservoirs, and watershed development) and restricted estimation of model parameters across watersheds. Collectively, such limitations can impede identification of the causes of streamflow variations across the diversity of watershed sizes and land uses in the CONUS and contribute to model imprecision and spatial inconsistencies in prediction uncertainties. We addressed these concerns with a new approach, the first hybrid (statistical-mechanistic) SPARROW (SPAtially Referenced Regression On Watershed attributes) model of long-term mean annual streamflow, applied across diverse environmental settings of the CONUS. The hybrid model coupled previous catchment-scale (1 km) water balance predictions of “natural” unit area runoff, which are inclusive of major water cycling processes, with additional explanatory variables (e.g., soils, vegetation, land use, topography, water losses in streams, and reservoirs) that account for the effects of natural and cultural water supply and demand processes that operate over large spatial scales and explain streamflow variability across CONUS river basins. Accounting for these statistically unique effects, including a nonlinear surface area-dependent scaling of water loss in river networks, significantly improved the accuracy of mean streamflow predictions in CONUS basins. Our hybrid modeling approach provides new methods for transferring hydrological information to ungauged locations in river networks, especially those in larger and more culturally diverse CONUS watersheds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10893-10917
Number of pages25
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume55
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology

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