Mountain water resources management often requires hydrological models that need to handle both snow and ice melt. In this study, we compared two different model types for a partly glacierized watershed in central Switzerland: (1) an energy-balance model primarily designed for snow simulations; and (2) a temperature-index model developed for glacier simulations. The models were forced with data extrapolated from long-term measurement records to mimic the typical input data situation for climate change assessments. By using different methods to distribute precipitation, we also assessed how various snow cover patterns influenced the modelled runoff.
The energy-balance model provided accurate discharge estimations during periods dominated by snow melt, but dropped in performance during the glacier ablation season. The glacier melt rates were sensitive to the modelled snow cover patterns and to the parameterization of turbulent heat fluxes. In contrast, the temperature-index model poorly reproduced snow melt runoff, but provided accurate discharge estimations during the periods dominated by glacier ablation, almost independently of the method used to distribute precipitation. Apparently, the calibration of this model compensated for the inaccurate precipitation input with biased parameters.
Our results show that accurate estimates of snow cover patterns are needed either to correctly constrain the melt parameters of the temperature-index model or to ensure appropriate glacier surface albedos required by the energy-balance model. Thus, particularly when only distant meteorological stations are available, carefully selected input data and efficient extrapolation methods of meteorological variables improve the reliability of runoff simulations in high alpine watersheds. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.