Contrasting lumped and distributed hydrology models for estimating climate change impacts on California watersheds

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John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


We compare the projected changes to streamflows for three Sierra Nevada rivers using statistically downscaled output from 22 global climate projections. The downscaled meteorological data are used to drive two hydrology models: the Sacramento Soil Moisture Accounting model and the variable infiltration capacity model. These two models differ in their spatial resolution, computational time step, and degree and objective of calibration, thus producing significantly different simulations of current and future streamflow. However, the projected percentage changes in monthly streamflows through mid-21st Century generally did not differ, with the exceptions of streamflow during low flow months, and extreme low flows. These findings suggest that for physically based hydrology models applied to snow-dominated basins in Mediterranean climate regimes like the Sierra Nevada, California, model formulation, resolution, and calibration are secondary factors for estimating projected changes in extreme flows (seasonal or daily). For low flows, hydrology model selection and calibration can be significant factors in assessing impacts of projected climate change.