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Why are long-term storage variations observed but not modelled in the Luangwa basin?
  • Petra Hulsman,
  • Hubert H. G. Savenije,
  • Markus Hrachowitz
Petra Hulsman
Delft University of Technology

Corresponding Author:p.hulsman@tudelft.nl

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Hubert H. G. Savenije
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Markus Hrachowitz
Delft University of Technology
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In the Luangwa basin, long-term total water storage variations were observed with GRACE, but not reproduced by a standard conceptual hydrological model that encapsulates our current understanding of the dominant regional hydrological processes. The objective of this paper was to identify potential processes underlying these low-frequency variations through combined data analysis and model hypothesis testing. First, we analysed the effect of data uncertainty by contrasting observed storage variations with multi-annual estimates of precipitation and evaporation from multiple data sources. Second, we analysed four different combinations of model forcing and evaluated their skill to reproduce the observed long-term storage variations. Third, we formulated alternative model hypotheses for groundwater export to potentially explain low-frequency storage variations. Overall, the results suggest that the initial model's inability to reproduce the observed low-frequency storage variations was partly due to the forcing data used and partly due to the missing representation of regional groundwater export. More specifically, the choice of data source affected the model's ability to reproduce annual maximum storage fluctuations, whereas the annual minima improved by adapting the model structure to allow for groundwater export from a deeper groundwater layer. This suggests that, in contrast to previous research, conceptual models can reproduce long-term storage fluctuations if a suitable model structure is used. Overall, the results highlight the value of alternative data sources and iterative testing of model structural hypotheses to improve runoff predictions in a poorly gauged basin leading to enhanced understanding of its hydrological processes.