Use of Regional Climate Model Output for Hydrologic Simulations

Lauren E. Hay, United States Geological Survey
Martyn P. Clark, University of Colorado, Boulder
Robert L. Wilby, King's College London
William J. Gutowski Jr., Iowa State University
George H. Leavesley, United States Geological Survey
Zaitao Pan, Iowa State University
Raymond W. Arritt, Iowa State University
Eugene S. Takle, Iowa State University

This article is published as Hay, L. E., M. P. Clark, R. L. Wilby, W. J. Gutowski Jr, G. H. Leavesley, Z. Pan, R. W. Arritt, and E. S. Takle. "Use of regional climate model output for hydrologic simulations." Journal of Hydrometeorology 3, no. 5 (2002): 571-590. DOI:10.1175/1525-7541(2002)003<0571:UORCMO>2.0.CO;2. Posted with permission.


Daily precipitation and maximum and minimum temperature time series from a regional climate model (RegCM2) configured using the continental United States as a domain and run on a 52-km (approximately) spatial resolution were used as input to a distributed hydrologic model for one rainfall-dominated basin (Alapaha River at Statenville, Georgia) and three snowmelt-dominated basins (Animas River at Durango, Colorado; east fork of the Carson River near Gardnerville, Nevada; and Cle Elum River near Roslyn, Washington). For comparison purposes, spatially averaged daily datasets of precipitation and maximum and minimum temperature were developed from measured data for each basin. These datasets included precipitation and temperature data for all stations (hereafter, All-Sta) located within the area of the RegCM2 output used for each basin, but excluded station data used to calibrate the hydrologic model.

Both the RegCM2 output and All-Sta data capture the gross aspects of the seasonal cycles of precipitation and temperature. However, in all four basins, the RegCM2- and All-Sta-based simulations of runoff show little skill on a daily basis [Nash–Sutcliffe (NS) values range from 0.05 to 0.37 for RegCM2 and 20.08 to 0.65 for All-Sta]. When the precipitation and temperature biases are corrected in the RegCM2 output and All-Sta data (Bias-RegCM2 and Bias-All, respectively) the accuracy of the daily runoff simulations improve dramatically for the snowmelt-dominated basins (NS values range from 0.41 to 0.66 for RegCM2 and 0.60 to 0.76 for All- Sta). In the rainfall-dominated basin, runoff simulations based on the Bias-RegCM2 output show no skill (NS value of 0.09) whereas Bias-All simulated runoff improves (NS value improved from 20.08 to 0.72).

These results indicate that measured data at the coarse resolution of the RegCM2 output can be made appropriate for basin-scale modeling through bias correction (essentially a magnitude correction). However, RegCM2 output, even when bias corrected, does not contain the day-to-day variability present in the All-Sta dataset that is necessary for basin-scale modeling. Future work is warranted to identify the causes for systematic biases in RegCM2 simulations, develop methods to remove the biases, and improve RegCM2 simulations of daily variability in local climate.