Global-scale flow routing using a source-to-sink algorithm


  • Francisco Olivera,

  • James Famiglietti,

  • Kwabena Asante


In this paper, the development and global application of a new approach to large-scale river routing is described. It differs from previous methods by the extent to which the information content of high-resolution global digital elevation models is exploited in a computationally efficient framework. The model transports runoff directly from its source of generation in a land model cell to its sink on a continental margin or in an internally draining basin (and hence is referred to as source-to-sink routing) rather than from land cell to land cell (which we call cell-to-cell routing). It advances the development of earlier source-to-sink models by allowing for spatially distributed flow velocities, attenuation coefficients, and loss parameters. The method presented here has been developed for use in climate system models, with a specific goal of generating hydrographs at continental margins for input into an ocean model. However, the source-to-sink approach is flexible and can be applied at any space-time scale and in a number of other types of large-scale hydrological and Earth system models. Hydrographs for some of the world's major river basins resulting from a global application, as well as hydrographs for the Nile River from a more detailed application, are discussed.