• sensitivity;
  • identifiability;
  • automatic calibration;
  • parameter estimation


Efficiency of hydrological models mostly depends on the quality of the calibration performed prior to use. In this paper, an automatic calibration framework for the distributed hydrological model HYDROTEL is proposed. The calibration procedure was performed for three watersheds characterized with different hydroclimatological conditions: the Sassandra located in Ivory Coast, Africa, and the Montmorency and Beaurivage watersheds located in Quebec (Canada). Results of one-a-time (OAT) sensitivity analysis showed that the order of the most sensitive parameters differs for each watershed. Thus, the sensitivity depends on the hydroclimatic and physiographic characteristics of the watersheds. Co-linearity indices showed that all model parameters were identifiable, that is, none of the studied parameters could be explained by a combination of the other parameters. Following these findings, an automatic calibration was run. Results indicated there was good agreement between simulated and measured streamflows at the outlet of each watershed; Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency (NSE) ranging between 0.77 and 0.92 and R2 ranging from 0.87 to 0.97. When comparing NSE and R2 values obtained using a process-oriented, multiple-objective, manual calibration strategy, a slight increase in model efficiency was reached with the automatic calibration procedure (4.15% for NSE and 2.95% for R2) improving predictions of peak flows for the Montmorency and Beaurivage watersheds (temperate climate conditions) and flows beyond the rainfall season in the Sassandra watershed. The proposed automatic calibration procedure introduced in this paper may be applied to other distributed hydrological model. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.