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Yanchen Zheng, Jianzhu Li, Ting Zhang, Youtong Rong, and Ping Feng


Model calibration has always been one major challenge in the hydrological community. Flood scaling properties (FS) are often used to estimate the flood quantiles for data-scarce catchments based on the statistical relationship between flood peak and contributing areas. This paper investigates the potential of applying FS and multivariate flood scaling properties [multiple linear regression (MLR)] as constraints in model calibration. Based on the assumption that the scaling property of flood exists in four study catchments in northern China, eight calibration scenarios are designed with adopting different combinations of traditional indicators and FS or MLR as objective functions. The performance of the proposed method is verified by employing a distributed hydrological model, namely, the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model. The results indicate that reasonable performance could be obtained in FS with fewer requirements of observed streamflow data, exhibiting better simulation of flood peaks than the Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency coefficient calibration scenario. The observed streamflow data or regional flood information are required in the MLR calibration scenario to identify the dominant catchment descriptors, and MLR achieves better performance on catchment interior points, especially for the events with uneven distribution of rainfall. On account of the improved performance on hydrographs and flood frequency curve at the watershed outlet, adopting the statistical indicators and flood scaling property simultaneously as model constraints is suggested. The proposed methodology enhances the physical connection of flood peak among subbasins and considers watershed actual conditions and climatic characteristics for each flood event, facilitating a new calibration approach for both gauged catchments and data-scarce catchments.

Significance Statement

This paper proposes a new hydrological model calibration strategy that explores the potential of applying flood scaling properties as constraints. The proposed method effectively captures flood peaks with fewer requirements of observed streamflow time series data, providing a new alternative method in hydrological model calibration for ungauged watersheds. For gauged watersheds, adopting flood scaling properties as model constraints could make the hydrological model calibration more physically based and improve the performance at catchment interior points. We encourage this novel method to be adopted in model calibration for both gauged and data-scarce watersheds.

Open access
Yanchen Zheng, Jianzhu Li, Lixin Dong, Youtong Rong, Aiqing Kang, and Ping Feng


Initial abstraction (Ia) is a sensitive parameter in hydrological models, and its value directly determines the amount of runoff. Ia, which is influenced by many factors related to antecedent watershed condition (AWC), is difficult to estimate due to lack of observed data. In the Soil Conservation Service curve number (SCS-CN) method, it is often assumed that Ia is 0.2 times the potential maximum retention S. Yet this assumption has frequently been questioned. In this paper, Ia/S and factors potentially influencing Ia were collected from rainfall–runoff events. Soil moisture and evaporation data were extracted from GLDAS-Noah datasets to represent AWC. Based on the driving factors of Ia, identified using the Pearson correlation coefficient and maximal information coefficient, artificial neural network (ANN)-estimated Ia was applied to simulate the selected flood events in the Hydrologic Engineering Center Hydrologic Modeling System (HEC-HMS) model. The results indicated that Ia/S varies over different events and different watersheds. Over 75% of the Ia/S values are less than 0.2 in the two study areas. The driving factors affecting Ia vary over different watersheds, and the antecedent precipitation index appears to be the most influential factor. Flood simulation by the HEC-HMS model using statistical Ia gives the best fitness, whereas applying ANN-estimated Ia outperforms the simulation with median Ia/S. For over 60% of the flood events, ANN-estimated Ia provided better fitness in flood peak and depth, with an average Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency coefficient of 0.76 compared to 0.71 for median Ia/S. The proposed ANN-estimated Ia is physically based and can be applied without calibration, saving time in constructing hydrological models.

Free access