Using reanalysis-driven regional climate model outputs for hydrology modelling

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Bias correction methods are usually applied to climate model outputs before using these outputs for hydrological climate change impact studies. However, the use of a bias correction procedure is debatable, due to the lack of physical basis and the bias nonstationarity of climate model outputs between future and historical periods. The direct use of climate model outputs for impact studies has therefore been recommended in a few studies. This study investigates the possibility of using reanalysis-driven regional climate model (RCM) outputs directly for hydrological modelling by comparing the performance of bias-corrected and nonbias-corrected climate simulations in hydrological simulations over 246 watersheds in the Province of Québec, Canada. When using RCM outputs directly, the hydrological model is specifically calibrated using RCM simulations. Two evaluation metrics (Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency [NSE] and transformed root mean square error [TRMSE]) and three hydrological indicators (mean, high, and low flows) are used as criteria for this comparison. Two reanalysis-driven RCMs with resolutions of 45 km and 15 km are used to investigate the scale effect of climate model simulations and bias correction approaches on hydrology modelling. The results show that nonbias-corrected simulations perform better than bias-corrected simulations for the reproduction of the observed streamflows when using NSE and TRMSE as criteria. The nonbias-corrected simulations are also better than or comparable with the bias-corrected simulations in terms of reproducing the three hydrological indicators. These results imply that the raw RCM outputs driven by reanalysis can be used directly for hydrological modelling with a specific calibration of hydrological models using these datasets when gauged observations are scarce or unavailable. The nonbias-corrected simulations (at a minimum) should be provided to end users, along with the bias-corrected ones, especially for studying the uncertainty of hydrological climate change impacts. This is especially true when using an RCM with a high resolution, since the scale effect is observed when the RCM resolution increases from a 45-km to a 15-km scale.

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