Getting the right answers for the right reasons: Linking measurements, analyses, and models to advance the science of hydrology



[1] The science of hydrology is on the threshold of major advances, driven by new hydrologic measurements, new methods for analyzing hydrologic data, and new approaches to modeling hydrologic systems. Here I suggest several promising directions forward, including (1) designing new data networks, field observations, and field experiments, with explicit recognition of the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of hydrologic processes, (2) replacing linear, additive “black box” models with “gray box” approaches that better capture the nonlinear and non-additive character of hydrologic systems, (3) developing physically based governing equations for hydrologic behavior at the catchment or hillslope scale, recognizing that they may look different from the equations that describe the small-scale physics, (4) developing models that are minimally parameterized and therefore stand some chance of failing the tests that they are subjected to, and (5) developing ways to test models more comprehensively and incisively. I argue that scientific progress will mostly be achieved through the collision of theory and data, rather than through increasingly elaborate and parameter-rich models that may succeed as mathematical marionettes, dancing to match the calibration data even if their underlying premises are unrealistic. Thus advancing the science of hydrology will require not only developing theories that get the right answers but also testing whether they get the right answers for the right reasons.