Climate change impacts model parameter sensitivity-implications for calibration strategy and model diagnostic evaluation

Melsen, Lieke Anna; Guse, Björn


Hydrological models are useful tools for exploring the impact of climate change. To prioritize parameters for calibration and to evaluate hydrological model functioning, sensitivity analysis can be conducted. Parameter sensitivity, however, varies over climate, and therefore climate change could influence parameter sensitivity. In this study we explore the change in parameter sensitivity for the mean discharge and the timing of the discharge, within a plausible climate change rate. We investigate whether changes in sensitivity propagate into the calibration strategy and diagnostically compare three hydrological models based on the sensitivity results. We employed three frequently used hydrological models (SAC, VIC, and HBV) and explored parameter sensitivity changes across 605 catchments in the United States by comparing GCM(RCP8.5)-forced historical and future periods. Consistent among all hydrological models and both for the mean discharge and the timing of the discharge is that the sensitivity of snow parameters decreases in the future. Which other parameters increase in sensitivity is less consistent among the hydrological models. In 45 % to 55 % of the catchments, dependent on the hydrological model, at least one parameter changes in the future in the top-5 most sensitive parameters for mean discharge. For the timing, this varies between 40 % and 88 %. This requires an adapted calibration strategy for long-term projections, for which we provide several suggestions. The disagreement among the models on the processes that become more relevant in future projections also calls for a strict evaluation of the adequacy of the model structure for long-term simulations.