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David G. Tarboton

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


In the western United States, snow accumulation, storage, and ablation affect seasonal runoff. Thus, the prediction of snowmelt is essential to improve the reliability of water supply forecasts to guide water allocation and operational decisions. The current method used at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) couples the SNOW-17 temperature index snow model and the Sacramento Soil Moisture Accounting (SAC-SMA) runoff model in a lumped approach. Limitations in parameter transferability and calibration requirements for changing conditions with the temperature-index model motivated this research, in which new avenues were investigated to assess and prototype the application of an energy-balance snow model in a distributed modeling approach. The Utah Energy Balance (UEB) model was chosen to compare with the SNOW-17 model because it is simple and parsimonious, making it suitable for distributed application with the potential to improve water supply forecasts. Each model was coupled with the SAC-SMA model and the Rutpix7 routing model to simulate basin snowmelt and discharge. All the models were applied on grids over watersheds using the Research Distributed Hydrologic Model (RDHM) framework. Case studies were implemented for two study sites in the Colorado River basin over a period of two decades. The model performance was evaluated by comparing the model output with observed daily discharge and snow-covered area data obtained from remote sensing sources. Simulated evaporative components of sublimation and evapotranspiration were also evaluated. The results showed that the UEB model, requiring calibration of only a snow drift factor, achieves a comparable performance to the calibrated SNOW-17 model, and both provided reasonable basin snow and discharge simulations in the two study sites. The UEB model had the additional advantage of being able to explicitly simulate sublimation for different land types and thus better quantify evaporative water balance components and their sensitivity to land cover change. UEB also has a better transferability potential because it requires calibration of fewer parameters than SNOW-17. The majority of the parameters for UEB are physically based and regarded as constants characterizing spatially invariant properties of snow processes. Thus, the model remains valid for different climate and terrain conditions for multiple watersheds.