On the effect of the uncertainty in soil properties on the simulated hydrological state and fluxes at different spatio-temporal scales

Hydrology and Earth System Sciences | Baroni et al. [2016]


Soil properties show high heterogeneity at different spatial scales and their correct characterization remains a crucial challenge over large areas. The aim of the study is to quantify the impact of different types of uncertainties that arise from the unresolved soil spatial variability on simulated hydrological states and fluxes. Three perturbation methods are presented for the characterization of the uncertainties in soil properties. The methods are applied at the soil map of the upper Neckar catchment (Germany), as example. The uncertainties are propagated based on the distributed hydrological model mHM to assess the impact of the simulated state and fluxes. The model outputs are analysed by aggregating the results at different spatial and temporal scales. These results show that the impact of the different uncertainties introduced in the original soil map is equivalent when the simulated model outputs are analysed at the model grid resolution (i.e., 500 m). However, several differences are identified by aggregating state and fluxes at different spatial scales (by subcatchments of different sizes or coarsening the grid resolution). Streamflow is only sensitive to the perturbation of long spatial structures while distributed state and fluxes (e.g., soil moisture and groundwater recharge) are only sensitive to the local noise introduced to the original soil properties. A clear identification of the temporal and spatial scale for which finer resolution soil information is (or not) relevant is unlikely to be universal. However, the comparison of the impacts on the different hydrological components can be used to prioritize the model improvements in specific applications, either by collecting new measurements or by calibration and data assimilation approaches. In conclusion, the study underlines the importance of a correct characterization of the uncertainty in soil properties. With that, soil map with additional information regarding the unresolved soil spatial variability would provide a strong support to hydrological modelling applications.

Full text can be found here.



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