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Evaluation of global impact models' ability to reproduce runoff characteristics over the central United States

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posted on 15.04.2016, 09:55 by Ignazio Giuntoli, Gabriele Villarini, Christel Prudhomme, Iman Mallakpour, David M. Hannah
The central United States experiences a wide array of hydrological extremes, with the 1993, 2008, 2013, and 2014 flooding events and the 1988 and 2012 droughts representing some of the most recent extremes, and is an area where water availability is critical for agricultural production. This study aims to evaluate the ability of a set of global impact models (GIMs) from the Water Model Intercomparison Project to reproduce the regional hydrology of the central United States for the period 1963-2001. Hydrological indices describing annual daily maximum, medium and minimum flow, and their timing are extracted from both modeled daily runoff data by nine GIMs and from observed daily streamflow measured at 252 river gauges. We compare trend patterns for these indices, and their ability to capture runoff volume differences for the 1988 drought and 1993 flood. In addition, we use a subset of 128 gauges and corresponding grid cells to perform a detailed evaluation of the models on a gauge-to-grid cell basis. Results indicate that these GIMs capture the overall trends in high, medium, and low flows well. However, the models differ from observations with respect to the timing of high and medium flows. More specifically, GIMs that only include water balance tend to be closer to the observations than GIMs that also include the energy balance. In general, as it would be expected, the performance of the GIMs is the best when describing medium flows, as opposed to the two ends of the runoff spectrum. With regards to low flows, some of the GIMs have considerably large pools of zeros or low values in their time series, undermining their ability in capturing low flow characteristics and weakening the ensemble's output. Overall, this study provides a valuable examination of the capability of GIMs to reproduce observed regional hydrology over a range of quantities for the central United States. Key Points Evaluation of global impact models in reproducing runoff over central U.S. Overall, GIMs can reproduce trends in high, medium, and low flows well Skill of GIMs differs (water only/energy balance) in capturing runoff seasonality.


Ignazio Giuntoli was funded by a Ph.D. scholarship from the United Kingdom Natural Environment Research Council (NE/YXS1270382) to the University of Birmingham in collaboration with Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Gabriele Villarini and Iman Mallakpour acknowledge financial support from the USACE Institute for Water Resources, the Iowa Flood Center, and IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering.



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment

Published in

Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres






9138 - 9159


GIUNTOLI, I. ... et al., 2015. Evaluation of global impact models' ability to reproduce runoff characteristics over the central United States. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 120 (18), pp.9138-9159.


John Wiley & Sons (© the authors)


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at:

Publication date



Accepted for publication in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. © 2015 American Geophysical Union. Further reproduction or electronic distribution is not permitted.