Assessing the relative importance of parameter and forcing uncertainty and their interactions in conceptual hydrological model simulations

E. M. Mockler*, Kwok Pan CHUN, G. Sapriza-Azuri, M. Bruen, H. S. Wheater

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Predictions of river flow dynamics provide vital information for many aspects of water management including water resource planning, climate adaptation, and flood and drought assessments. Many of the subjective choices that modellers make including model and criteria selection can have a significant impact on the magnitude and distribution of the output uncertainty. Hydrological modellers are tasked with understanding and minimising the uncertainty surrounding streamflow predictions before communicating the overall uncertainty to decision makers. Parameter uncertainty in conceptual rainfall-runoff models has been widely investigated, and model structural uncertainty and forcing data have been receiving increasing attention. This study aimed to assess uncertainties in streamflow predictions due to forcing data and the identification of behavioural parameter sets in 31 Irish catchments. By combining stochastic rainfall ensembles and multiple parameter sets for three conceptual rainfall-runoff models, an analysis of variance model was used to decompose the total uncertainty in streamflow simulations into contributions from (i) forcing data, (ii) identification of model parameters and (iii) interactions between the two. The analysis illustrates that, for our subjective choices, hydrological model selection had a greater contribution to overall uncertainty, while performance criteria selection influenced the relative intra-annual uncertainties in streamflow predictions. Uncertainties in streamflow predictions due to the method of determining parameters were relatively lower for wetter catchments, and more evenly distributed throughout the year when the Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency of logarithmic values of flow (lnNSE) was the evaluation criterion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-313
Number of pages15
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Water Science and Technology

User-Defined Keywords

  • Hydrological modelling
  • Model parameters
  • Performance criteria
  • Rainfall modelling
  • Uncertainty


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