The effects of spatial and temporal resolution of gridded meteorological forcing on watershed hydrological responses

Journal Article
Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, vol. 26, iss. 8, pp. 2245-2276, 2022
Pin Shuai, Xingyuan Chen, Utkarsh Mital, Ethan T. Coon, Dipankar Dwivedi
Abstract. Meteorological forcing plays a critical role in accurately simulating the watershed hydrological cycle. With the advancement of high-performance computing and the development of integrated watershed models, simulating the watershed hydrological cycle at high temporal (hourly to daily) and spatial resolution (tens of meters) has become efficient and computationally affordable. These hyperresolution watershed models require high resolution of meteorological forcing as model input to ensure the fidelity and accuracy of simulated responses. In this study, we utilized the Advanced Terrestrial Simulator (ATS), an integrated watershed model, to simulate surface and subsurface flow and land surface processes using unstructured meshes at the Coal Creek Watershed near Crested Butte (Colorado). We compared simulated watershed hydrologic responses including streamflow and distributed variables such as evapotranspiration, snow water equivalent (SWE), and groundwater table driven by three publicly available, gridded meteorological forcings (GMFs) – Daily Surface Weather and Climatological Summaries (Daymet), the Parameter-elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes Model (PRISM), and the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS). By comparing various spatial resolutions (ranging from 400 m to 4 km) of PRISM, the simulated streamflow only becomes marginally worse when spatial resolution of meteorological forcing is coarsened to 4 km (or 30 % of the watershed area). However, the 4 km-resolution has much worse performance than finer resolution in spatially distributed variables such as SWE. Using the temporally disaggregated PRISM, we compared models forced by different temporal resolutions (hourly to daily), and sub-daily resolution preserves the dynamic watershed responses (e.g., diurnal fluctuation of streamflow) that are absent in results forced by daily resolution. Conversely, the simulated streamflow shows better performance using daily resolution compared to that using sub-daily resolution. Our findings suggest that the choice of GMF and its spatiotemporal resolution depends on the quantity of interest and its spatial and temporal scale, which may have important implications for model calibration and watershed management decisions.