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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Regionalization for Ungauged Catchments - Lessons Learned From a Comparative Large-Sample Study

Pool, Sandra; Vis, Marc; Seibert, Jan


Model parameter values for ungauged catchments can be regionalized from hydrologically similar gauged catchments. Achieving reliable and robust predictions in ungauged catchments by regionalization, however, is still a major challenge. Here, we conduct a comparative assessment of 19 regionalization approaches based on previously published literature to contribute new insights into their performance in different geographic regions. The approaches use geographical information, physical catchment attributes, hydrological signatures, or a combination thereof to select donor catchments and to subsequently transfer their entire parameter sets to the ungauged receiver catchment. Each regionalization approach was tested in a leave-one-out cross-validation with a bucket-type catchment model (the HBV model) using 671 gauged catchments in the United States with a diverse hydroclimatology. We then evaluated regionalization performance for several hydrograph aspects, compared it against calibration and regionalization benchmarks, and linked it to catchment descriptors. The results of this large-sample regionalization study can be summarized in three major lessons: (a) Catchments can benefit from a well-chosen regionalization approach independent of their geographic region and independent of how well they can be modeled or regionalized at best. (b) Almost perfect donors exist for most catchments and an excellent relative model performance can be reached for most catchments with current regionalization approaches. This implies that there is considerable potential for improvement in the prediction in ungauged catchments. (c) The ranking of regionalization approaches depends on how the predicted hydrographs are evaluated. These findings indicate that a multi-criteria evaluation is essential for a robust assessment of regionalization performance.


Ungauged catchments; regionalization; parameter estimation; large-sample data set

Published in

Water Resources Research
2021, Volume: 57, number: 10, article number: e2021WR030437

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

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