On the implementation of the surface conductance approach using a block-centred surface-subsurface hydrology model

Jessica Liggett, Matthew Knowling, Adrian Werner, Craig Simmons

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    In physically based catchment hydrology models, dynamic surface-subsurface interactions are often represented using the surface conductance (SC) coupling approach. Guidance on SC parameterisation within block-centred codes is limited, and common practice is to express the SC coefficient as the quotient of the vertical saturated hydraulic conductivity and the half-cell thickness of the uppermost layer. This study evaluates the implementation of the SC approach utilising a popular block-centred, surface-subsurface hydrology model (MODHMS) to simulate one-dimensional infiltration experiments under Hortonian conditions. Results show that defining the SC coefficient based on a half-cell thickness of the uppermost subsurface cell inhibits accurate prediction of infiltration rates (qe) and the time to initiate surface runoff (tro) for the adopted rainfall-runoff scenario. Increasing the SC coefficient independently of the grid allows for accurate simulation of qe, but not tro. The addition of a thin layer at the surface is shown to improve model accuracy substantially, such that qe and tro approach those obtained using an equivalent mesh-centred model (i.e. where the surface and upper subsurface nodes are coincident). Whilst the addition of a single thin layer in block-centred codes allows improved prediction of surface-subsurface interaction, it does not provide a surrogate for fine discretisation throughout the subsurface that is necessary for accurate simulation of unsaturated zone flow. This study offers guidance on the implementation of the SC approach in a block-centred code and demonstrates the importance of systematic testing of parameters (that are otherwise calibrated) in physically based surface-subsurface hydrology models.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-8
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Hydrology
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2013


    • Catchment modelling
    • Fully integrated model
    • MODHMS
    • Surface conductance approach
    • Surface-subsurface interaction


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