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Analysis of the surface hydrology in a regional climate model


  • The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the USA National Science Foundation.


This paper discusses the surface hydrology of a multi-year simulation of present day climate over the United States (US) conducted with a regional climate model (RegCM) nested within a general circulation model (GCM). The RegCM, which is run with a 60 km gridpoint spacing is interactively coupled with a state-of-the-art surface physics package that includes full surface hydrology calculations (the Biosphere-Atmosphere Transfer Scheme or BATS). The hydrologic budgets of ten regional drainage basins in the US are analysed. Model results are compared with available observations and with results from previous modelling experiments to evaluate the feasibility of using nested RegCM/GCM models for hydrology studies. In our experiment, the model captures the basic seasonality of the basin hydrologic budgets, although the simulated precipitation amounts are too high over the western US and too low over the eastern US. As a result, runoff, snow cover and soil water content are underestimated over the eastern US basins, while evaporation and runoff are overestimated in some of the western US basins. Topographically induced characteristics of precipitation, snow cover and runoff are well simulated over the mountainous western regions. Also well captured is the inter-basin variation of hydrologic budgets which occurs in response to different climatic settings. The springtime snowmelt and peak runoff season generally occurs in the model earlier in the year than is observed. Although our work indicates that the coupled regional modelling system can be useful in applications to hydrological studies, results from this experiment indicate that better accuracy in the simulation of regional climatic variables and more detailed representation of some hydrologic processes would be required before the coupled modelling system could be used to provide accurate assessments of hydrologic responses to climate change.

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