Methodologies for calibration and predictive analysis of a watershed model

John Doherty, John M. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

184 Citations (Scopus)


The use of a fitted parameter watershed model to address water quantity and quality management issues requires that it be calibrated under a wide range of hydrologic conditions. However, rarely does model calibration result in a unique parameter set. Parameter nonuniqueness can lead to predictive nonuniqueness. The extent of model predictive uncertainty should be investigated if management decisions are to be based on model projections. Using models built for four neighboring watersheds in the Neuse River Basin of North Carolina, the application of the automated parameter optimization software PEST in conjunction with the Hydrologic Simulation Program Fortran (HSPF) is demonstrated. Parameter nonuniqueness is illustrated, and a method is presented for calculating many different sets of parameters, all of which acceptably calibrate a watershed model. A regularization methodology is discussed in which models for similar watersheds can be calibrated simultaneously. Using this method, parameter differences between watershed models can be minimized while maintaining fit between model outputs and field observations. In recognition of the fact that parameter nonuniqueness and predictive uncertainty are inherent to the modeling process, PEST's nonlinear predictive analysis functionality is then used to explore the extent of model predictive uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-265
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of The American Water Resources Association
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • HSPF
  • Mathematical modeling
  • Model calibration
  • Parameter estimation
  • PEST
  • Uncertainty
  • Watershed management


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