Towards a simple dynamic process conceptualization in rainfall-runoff models using multi-criteria calibration and tracers in temperate, upland catchments

C. Birkel, D. Tetzlaff, S. M. Dunn, C. Soulsby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Citations (Scopus)


Empirically based understanding of streamflow generation dynamics in a montane headwater catchment formed the basis for the development of simple, low-parameterized, rainfall-runoff models. This study was based in the Girnock catchment in the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland, where runoff generation is dominated by overland flow from peaty soils in valley bottom areas that are characterized by dynamic expansion and contraction of saturation zones. A stepwise procedure was used to select the level of model complexity that could be supported by field data. This facilitated the assessment of the way the dynamic process representation improved model performance. Model performance was evaluated using a multi-criteria calibration procedure which applied a time series of hydrochemical tracers as an additional objective function. Flow simulations comparing a static against the dynamic saturation area model (SAM) substantially improved several evaluation criteria. Multi-criteria evaluation using ensembles of performance measures provided a much more comprehensive assessment of the model performance than single efficiency statistics, which alone, could be misleading. Simulation of conservative source area tracers (Gran alkalinity) as part of the calibration procedure showed that a simple two-storage model is the minimum complexity needed to capture the dominant processes governing catchment response. Additionally, calibration was improved by the integration of tracers into the flow model, which constrained model uncertainty and improved the hydrodynamics of simulations in a way that plausibly captured the contribution of different source areas to streamflow. This approach contributes to the quest for low-parameter models that can achieve process-based simulation of hydrological response. Copyright (C) 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-275
Number of pages16
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number3
Early online date13 Oct 2009
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2010


  • dynamic saturation areas
  • dominant hydrological processes
  • models
  • tracers
  • Gran alkalinity
  • multi-criteria calibration
  • mesoscale catchment
  • hydrological pathways
  • environmental-models
  • Cairngorm Mountains
  • Northeast Scotland
  • Scottish catchment
  • surface saturation
  • stream water
  • transit-time
  • land-use


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