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Hydrological Modeling to Evaluate Climate Model Simulations and Their Bias Correction

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Hakala Kirsti, Addor Nans, Seibert Jan,
Project Hydrological climate change impact assessment - addressing the uncertainties (HIMAUI)
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Hydrometeorology
Volume (Issue) 19(8)
Page(s) 1321 - 1337
Title of proceedings Journal of Hydrometeorology
DOI 10.1175/jhm-d-17-0189.1


Variables simulated by climate models are usually evaluated independently. Yet, climate change impacts often stem from the combined effect of these variables, making the evaluation of intervariable relationships essential. These relationships can be evaluated in a statistical framework (e.g., using correlation coefficients), but this does not test whether complex processes driven by nonlinear relationships are correctly represented. To overcome this limitation, we propose to evaluate climate model simulations in a more process-oriented framework using hydrological modeling. Our modeling chain consists of 12 regional climate models (RCMs) from the Coordinated Downscaling Experiment–European Domain (EURO-CORDEX) forced by five general circulation models (GCMs), eight Swiss catchments, 10 optimized parameter sets for the hydrological model Hydrologiska Byråns Vattenbalansavdelning (HBV), and one bias correction method [quantile mapping (QM)]. We used seven discharge metrics to explore the representation of different hydrological processes under current climate. Specific combinations of biases in GCM–RCM simulations can lead to significant biases in simulated discharge (e.g., excessive precipitation in the winter months combined with a cold temperature bias). Other biases, such as exaggerated snow accumulation, do not necessarily impact temperature over the historical period to the point where discharge is affected. Our results confirm the importance of bias correction; when all catchments, GCM–RCMs, and discharge metrics were considered, QM improved discharge simulations in the vast majority of all cases. Additionally, we present a ranking of climate models according to their hydrological performance. Ranking GCM–RCMs is most meaningful prior to bias correction since QM reduces differences between GCM–RCM-driven hydrological simulations. Overall, this work introduces a multivariate assessment method of GCM–RCMs, which enables a more process-oriented evaluation of their simulations.