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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2009

Subannual models for catchment management: evaluating model performance on three European catchments

Silgram, M.; Schoumans, O. F.; Walvoort, D. J. J.; Anthony, S. G.; Groenendijk, P.; Stromqvist, J.; Bouraoui, F.; Arheimer, B.; Kapetanaki, M.; Lo Porto, A.; Martensson, K.


Models' abilities to predict nutrient losses at subannual timesteps is highly significant for evaluating policy measures, as it enables trends and the frequency of exceedance of water quality thresholds to be predicted. Subannual predictions also permit assessments of seasonality in nutrient concentrations, which are necessary to determine susceptibility to eutrophic conditions and the impact of management practices on water quality. Predictions of subannual concentrations are pertinent to EC Directives, whereas load estimates are relevant to the 50% target reduction in nutrient loading to the maritime area under OSPAR. This article considers the ability of four models ( ranging from conceptual to fully mechanistic), to predict river flows, concentrations and loads of nitrogen and phosphorus on a subannual basis in catchments in Norway, England, and Italy. Results demonstrate that model performance deemed satisfactory on an annual basis may conceal considerable divergence in performance when scrutinised on a weekly or monthly basis. In most cases the four models performed satisfactorily, and mismatches between measurements and model predictions were primarily ascribed to the limitations in input data ( soils in the Norwegian catchment; weather in the Italian catchment). However, results identified limitations in model conceptualisation associated with the damping and lagging effect of a large lake leading to contrasts in model performance upstream and downstream of this feature in the Norwegian catchment. For SWAT applied to the Norwegian catchment, although flow predictions were reasonable, the large number of parameters requiring identification, and the lack of familiarity with this environment, led to poor predictions of river nutrient concentrations.

Published in

Journal of Environmental Monitoring
2009, volume: 11, number: 3, pages: 526-539

Authors' information

Silgram, Martyn
Schoumans, Oscar
Alterra, Wageningen UR
Walvoort, Dennis J. J.
Alterra, Wageningen UR
Anthony, Steven G.
Groenendijk, Piet
Alterra, Wageningen UR
Strömqvist, Johan
Bouraoui, Fayçal
Joint Research Centre, European Commission (JRC)
Arheimer, Berit
Kapetanaki, Maria
National Technical University of Athens
Lo Porto, Antonio
National Research Council (CNR)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil and Environment

Associated SLU-program


Sustainable Development Goals

SDG6 Clean water

UKÄ Subject classification

Fish and Aquacultural Science

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)