Parameter transferability within homogeneous regions and comparisons with predictions from a priori parameters in the eastern United States
The need for predictions of flow time-series persists at ungauged catchments, motivating the research goals of our study. By means of the Sacramento model, this paper explores the use of parameter transfer within homogeneous regions of similar climate and flow characteristics and makes comparisons with predictions from a priori parameters. We assessed the performance using the Nash-Sutcliffe (NS), bias, mean monthly hydrograph and flow duration curve (FDC). The study was conducted on a large dataset of 73 catchments within the eastern US. Two approaches to the parameter transferability were developed and evaluated; (i) the within homogeneous region parameter transfer using one donor catchment specific to each region, (ii) the parameter transfer disregarding the geographical limits of homogeneous regions, where one donor catchment was common to all regions. Comparisons between both parameter transfers enabled to assess the gain in performance from the parameter regionalization and its respective constraints and limitations. The parameter transfer within homogeneous regions outperformed the a priori parameters and led to a decrease in bias and increase in efficiency reaching a median NS of 0.77 and a NS of 0.85 at individual catchments. The use of FDC revealed the effect of bias on the inaccuracy of prediction from parameter transfer. In one specific region, of mountainous and forested catchments, the prediction accuracy of the parameter transfer was less satisfactory and equivalent to a priori parameters. In this region, the parameter transfer from the outsider catchment provided the best performance; less-biased with smaller uncertainty in medium flow percentiles (40%–60%). The large disparity of energy conditions explained the lack of performance from parameter transfer in this region. Besides, the subsurface stormflow is predominant and there is a likelihood of lateral preferential flow, which according to its specific properties further explained the reduced efficiency. Testing the parameter transferability using criteria of similar climate and flow characteristics at ungauged catchments and comparisons with predictions from a priori parameters are a novelty. The ultimate limitations of both approaches are recognized and recommendations are made for future research.