Testing a spatially distributed tracer-aided runoff model in a snow-influenced catchment: effects of multi-criteria calibration on streamwater ages

Thea Piovano* (Corresponding Author), Doerthe Tetzlaff, Pertti Ala-Aho, Jim Buttle, Carl P. J. Mitchell, Chris Soulsby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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Integrating stable isotope tracers into rainfall-runoff models allows investigation of water partitioning and direct estimation of travel times and water ages. Tracer data have valuable information content that can be used to constrain models and, in integration with hydrometric observations, test the conceptualisation of catchment processes in model structure and parameterisation. There is great potential in using tracer-aided modelling in snow-influenced catchments to improve understanding of these catchments’ dynamics and sensitivity to environmental change. We used the spatially-distributed, tracer aided STARR (Spatially distributed Tracer-Aided Rainfall-Runoff) model to simulate the interactions between water storage, flux and isotope dynamics in a snow-influenced, long-term monitored catchment in Ontario, Canada. Multiple realisations of the model were achieved using a combination of single and multiple objectives as calibration targets. Whilst good simulations of hydrometric targets such as discharge and SWE could be achieved by local calibration alone, adequate capture of the stream isotope dynamics was predicated on the inclusion of isotope data in the calibration. Parameter sensitivity was highest, and most local, for single calibration targets. With multiple calibration targets key sensitive parameters were still identifiable in snow and runoff generation routines. Water ages derived from flux tracking subroutines in the model indicated a catchment where runoff is dominated by younger waters, particularly during spring snowmelt. However, resulting water ages were most sensitive to the partitioning of runoff sources from soil and groundwater sources, which was most realistically achieved when isotopes were included in the calibration. Given the paucity of studies where hydrological models explicitly incorporate tracers in snow-influenced regions this study using STARR is an important contribution to satisfactorily simulating snowpack dynamics and runoff generation processes, whilst simultaneously capturing stable isotope variability in snowinfluenced
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3089-3107
Number of pages19
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number20
Early online date19 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by the European Research Council (project GA 335910 VeWa). Dr. Huaxia Yao, Chris McConnell and Tim Field were instrumental to the collection of isotope samples and for many aspects of hydrological data collection.


  • Tracer-aided model
  • streamwater ages
  • STARR (Spatially distributed Tracer-Aided Rainfall-Runoff)
  • multi-criteria calibration
  • stable isotopes
  • snow-influenced catchments


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