Simple water balance model for estimating runoff at different spatial and temporal scales


  • John C. Schaake,

  • Victor I. Koren,

  • Qing-Yun Duan,

  • Kenneth Mitchell,

  • Fei Chen


A parametric water balance model was developed based on statistical averaging of the main hydrological processes. The model has a two-layer structure with both a physical and statistical basis for the model parameters. It was developed to fill a need for models with a small number of parameters and of intermediate complexity between a one-parameter simple bucket and more complex hydrologically oriented models with many parameters such as the Sacramento model. The focus was to improve the representation of runoff relative to the simple bucket without introducing the full complexity of the Sacramento model. The model was designed to operate over a range of time steps to facilitate coupling to an atmospheric model. The model can be used for catchment scale simulations in hydrological applications and for simple representation of runoff in coupled atmospheric/hydrological models. An important role for the simple water balance (SWB) model is to assist in understanding how much complexity in representing land surface processes is needed and can be supported with available data to estimate model parameters. The model is tested using rainfall, runoff, and surface meteorological data for three catchments from different climate regimes. Model performance is compared to performance of a simple bucket model, the Sacramento model, and the Oregon State University land surface model. Finally, a series of tests were conducted to evaluate the sensitivity of SWB performance when it is operated at time steps different from the time step for which it was calibrated.