Comparison of gridded and measured rainfall data for basin-scale hydrological studies

Enrique Muñoz1*, César Álvarez2, Max Billib3, José Luis Arumí4, and Diego Rivera4

Global gridded climatological (GGC) datasets, including precipitation and temperature, are becoming more and more precise, accessible, and common, but the utility of these datasets and their limits for hydrological research are still not well determined. In this paper, we compare the performance of two hydrological models that are identical in structure but built with two different inputs: rainfall from rain gauge stations and from a GGC dataset. The objective is to evaluate the utility of gridded datasets in water resource availability studies mainly for hydroelectric and agricultural purposes. The Andean basin of the Laja River, located in south-central Chile, was chosen for this study. It was based on an 18-yr simulation, and it was concluded that i) with gridded climatological datasets in a monthly water balance model, it is possible to reproduce the behavior of an Andean basin with good goodness-of-fit, but with worse results than when using inputs from rain gauges; ii) the amount of rainfall in gridded datasets in the Andean area of the Laja basin is underestimated and damped, an effect which is transferred to the simulated flows; and iii) regarding the main activities in the Laja basin, global gridded datasets are useful for hydrological studies with agricultural purposes prior to a treatment that considers the orographic effect. On the other hand, these datasets are useless for hydroelectric purposes due to the large underestimation of peak flows obtained during the rainy season.

Keywords: Flow simulation, monthly water balance, surface water hydrology, water resources.
1Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción, Facultad de Ingeniería, Alonso de Ribera 2850, Concepción, Chile. *Corresponding author (emunozo@ucsc.cl).
2Universidad de Cantabria, Environmental Hydraulics Institute “IH Cantabria”, Avda. de los Castros s/n. Santander, España. 3Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University of Hannover, Institute of Water Resources Management, Appelstr. 9a, D-30167, Hannover, Germany.
4Universidad de Concepción, Facultad de Ingeniería Agrícola, Av. Vicente Méndez 595, Chillán, Chile.