Climate change impacts on hydroclimatology are becoming increasingly apparent around the world. It is unknown how annual variations in precipitation and air temperature alter the model-inferred importance of hydrological processes and how this varies across watersheds. To examine this, we used parsimonious rainfall-runoff model and applied time-varying sensitivity analysis across 30 Californian watersheds for a 33-year period (1981–2014). We calculated annual total order sensitivity indices for five performance metrics: Kling-Gupta Efficiency (KGE) and model error in simulating hydrologic signatures (runoff ratio, slope of flow duration curve, baseflow index, and timing of streamflow centroid). Sensitivity of hydrological signatures to the parameters differed by signature, while parameter importance with respect to KGE was much more spatially and temporally variable. Variations in parameter sensitivity with respect to KGE were either correlated with air temperature (snow-dominated sites in the Sierra Nevada) or precipitation (lower elevation sites < 1,300 m). Across error metrics and signatures, parameter sensitivity strongly differed between wet and dry years for a subset of our study sites. While parameter importance varied through time, parameter sensitivity variations across watersheds were much more pronounced. This suggests that parameter controls on model performance are much more a reflection of watershed properties as opposed to being dominantly shaped by shifts in precipitation and air temperature. These findings emphasize the importance of understanding simulated watershed responses to fluctuating annual conditions, as this conceptual knowledge is necessary to anticipate similarities and differences in response across even relatively proximal watersheds in the face of growing extreme conditions.
- hydrologic models
- time-varying sensitivity analysis
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Water Science and Technology