Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (Sep 2023)

Towards reducing the high cost of parameter sensitivity analysis in hydrologic modeling: a regional parameter sensitivity analysis approach

  • S. Larabi,
  • J. Mai,
  • M. Schnorbus,
  • B. A. Tolson,
  • F. Zwiers

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 27
pp. 3241 – 3263


Read online

Land surface models have many parameters that have a spatially variable impact on model outputs. In applying these models, sensitivity analysis (SA) is sometimes performed as an initial step to select calibration parameters. As these models are applied to large domains, performing sensitivity analysis across the domain is computationally prohibitive. Here, using a Variable Infiltration Capacity model (VIC) deployment to a large domain as an example, we show that watershed classification based on climatic attributes and vegetation land cover helps to identify the spatial pattern of parameter sensitivity within the domain at a reduced cost. We evaluate the sensitivity of 44 VIC model parameters with regard to streamflow, evapotranspiration and snow water equivalent over 25 basins with a median size of 5078 km2. Basins are clustered based on their climatic and land cover attributes. Performance in transferring parameter sensitivity between basins of the same cluster is evaluated by the F1 score. Results show that two donor basins per cluster are sufficient to correctly identify sensitive parameters in a target basin, with F1 scores ranging between 0.66 (evapotranspiration) and 1 (snow water equivalent). While climatic attributes are sufficient to identify sensitive parameters for streamflow and evapotranspiration, including the vegetation class significantly improves skill in identifying sensitive parameters for the snow water equivalent. This work reveals that there is opportunity to leverage climate and land cover attributes to greatly increase the efficiency of parameter sensitivity analysis and facilitate more rapid deployment of land surface models over large spatial domains.