Investigation of the curve number method for surface runoff estimation in tropical regions

Author(s): Dile, Y.T., L. Karlberg, R. Srinivasan, J. Rockström
In: Journal of the American Water Resources Association 52: 1155 – 1169
Year: 2016
Type: Journal / article
Theme affiliation: Landscapes
Link to centre authors: Rockström, Johan
Full reference: Dile, Y.T., L. Karlberg, R. Srinivasan, J. Rockström. 2016. Investigation of the curve number method for surface runoff estimation in tropical regions. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 52: 1155 – 1169

Summary

This study tests the applicability of the curve number (CN) method within the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to estimate surface runoff at the watershed scale in tropical regions. To do this, surface runoff simulated using the CN method was compared with observed runoff in numerous rainfall-runoff events in three small tropical watersheds located in the Upper Blue Nile basin, Ethiopia. The CN method generally performed well in simulating surface runoff in the studied watersheds (Nash-Sutcliff efficiency [NSE] > 0.7; percent bias [PBIAS] < 32%). Moreover, there was no difference in the performance of the CN method in simulating surface runoff under low and high antecedent rainfall (PBIAS for both antecedent conditions: ~30%; modified NSE: ~0.4). It was also found that the method accurately estimated surface runoff at high rainfall intensity (e.g., PBIAS < 15%); however, at low rainfall intensity, the CN method repeatedly underestimated surface runoff (e.g., PBIAS > 60%). This was possibly due to low infiltrability and valley bottom saturated areas typical of many tropical soils, indicating that there is scope for further improvements in the parameterization/representation of tropical soils in the CN method for runoff estimation, to capture low rainfall-intensity events. In this study the retention parameter was linked to the soil moisture content, which seems to be an appropriate approach to account for antecedent wetness conditions in the tropics.

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