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Can Hydrological Models Benefit From Using Global Soil Moisture, Evapotranspiration, and Runoff Products as Calibration Targets?

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
January 31, 2023

Hydrological models are usually calibrated to in-situ streamflow observations with reasonably long and uninterrupted records. This is challenging for poorly gage or ungaged basins where such information is not available. Even for gaged basins, the single-objective calibration to gaged streamflow cannot guarantee reliable forecasts because, as has been documented elsewhere, the inverse problem is mathematically ill-posed. Therefore, the inclusion of other observations, and the reproduction of other hydrological variables beyond streamflow, become critical components of accurate hydrological forecasting. In this study, six single- and multi-objective model calibration schemes based on different combinations of gaged streamflow, global-scale gridded soil moisture, actual evapotranspiration (ET), and runoff products are used for the calibration of a process-based hydrological model for 20 catchments located within the Lake Michigan watershed, of the Laurentian Great Lakes. Results show that the addition of gridded soil moisture to gaged streamflow in model calibration improves the ET simulation performance for most of the catchments, leading to the overall best-performing models. The monthly streamflow simulation performance for the experiments using gridded runoff products to inform the model is outperformed by those using the gaged streamflow, but the discrepancy is mitigated with increasing catchment scale. A new visualization method that effectively synthesizes model performance for the simulations of streamflow, soil moisture, and ET was also proposed. Based on the method, it is revealed that the streamflow simulation performance is relatively weak for baseflow-dominated catchments; overall, the 20 catchment models simulate streamflow and ET better than soil moisture.

Yiwen Mei
Juliane Mai
Hong Xuan Do
Howard Reeves
Sandra Eberts
Richard Niswonger
R. Steven Regan
Randall J. Hunt
Research Areas
Water Resources

Hydrological model


Runoff products

Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation

Mei, Y., Mai, J., Do, H. X., Gronewold, A., Reeves, H., Eberts, S., et al. (2023). Can hydrological models benefit from using global soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and runoff products as calibration targets? Water Resources Research, 59, e2022WR032064. CSS23-12