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Uncertainty in water model parameters used for climate change impact assessment.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Robert Wilby
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/10/2005
<mark>Journal</mark>Hydrological Processes
Issue number16
Number of pages19
Pages (from-to)3201-3219
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Despite their acknowledged limitations, lumped conceptual models continue to be used widely for climate-change impact assessments. Therefore, it is important to understand the relative magnitude of uncertainties in water resource projections arising from the choice of model calibration period, model structure, and non-uniqueness of model parameter sets. In addition, external sources of uncertainty linked to choice of emission scenario, climate model ensemble member, downscaling technique(s), and so on, should be acknowledged. To this end, the CATCHMOD conceptual water balance model was used to project changes in daily flows for the River Thames at Kingston using parameter sets derived from different subsets of training data, including the full record. Monte Carlo sampling was also used to explore parameter stability and identifiability in the context of historic climate variability. Parameters reflecting rainfall acceptance at the soil surface in simpler model structures were found to be highly sensitive to the training period, implying that climatic variability does lead to variability in the hydrologic behaviour of the Thames basin. Non-uniqueness of parameters for more complex model structures results in relatively small variations in projected annual mean flow quantiles for different training periods compared with the choice of emission scenario. However, this was not the case for subannual flow statistics, where uncertainty in flow changes due to equifinality was higher in winter than summer, and comparable in magnitude to the uncertainty of the emission scenario. Therefore, it is recommended that climate-change impact assessments using conceptual water balance models should routinely undertake sensitivity analyses to quantify uncertainties due to parameter instability, identifiability and non-uniqueness. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Bibliographic note

This paper demonstrates the large (and typically overlooked) uncertainty contributed by hydrological models to assessments of climate change impacts on deployable water resources. The climate change factors being used by UK water utilities to prepare their next 25-year water resource plans now reflect the findings of this study. RAE_import_type : Journal article RAE_uoa_type : Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences