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    Explaining changes in rainfall-runoff relationships during and after Australia's Millennium Drought: a community perspective
    Fowler, K ; Peel, M ; Saft, M ; Peterson, T ; Western, A ; Band, L ; Petheram, C ; Dharmadi, S ; Tan, KS ; Zhang, L ; Lane, P ; Kiem, A ; Marshall, L ; Griebel, A ; Medlyn, B ; Ryu, D ; Bonotto, G ; Wasko, C ; Ukkola, A ; Stephens, C ; Frost, A ; Weligamage, H ; Saco, P ; Zheng, H ; Chiew, F ; Daly, E ; Walker, G ; Vervoort, RW ; Hughes, J ; Trotter, L ; Neal, B ; Cartwright, I ; Nathan, R ( 2022-04-20)
    The Millennium Drought lasted more than a decade, and is notable for causing persistent shifts in the relationship between rainfall and runoff in many south-east Australian catchments. Research to date has successfully characterised where and when shifts occurred and explored relationships with potential drivers, but a convincing physical explanation for observed changes in catchment behaviour is still lacking. Originating from a large multi-disciplinary workshop, this paper presents a range of possible process explanations of flow response, and then evaluates these hypotheses against available evidence. The hypotheses consider climatic forcing, vegetation, soil moisture dynamics, groundwater, and anthropogenic influence. The hypotheses are assessed against evidence both temporally (eg. why was the Millennium Drought different to previous droughts?) and spatially (eg. why did rainfall-runoff relationships shift in some catchments but not in others?). The results point to the unprecedented length of the drought as the primary climatic driver, paired with interrelated groundwater processes, including: declines in groundwater storage, reduced recharge associated with vadose zone expansion, and reduced connection between subsurface and surface water processes. Other causes include increased evaporative demand and interception of runoff by small private dams. Finally, we discuss the need for long-term field monitoring, particularly targeting internal catchment processes and subsurface dynamics. We recommend continued investment in understanding of hydrological shifts, particularly given their relevance to water planning under climate variability and change.
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    Towards more realistic runoff projections by removing limits on simulated soil moisture deficit
    Fowler, KJA ; Coxon, G ; Freer, JE ; Knoben, WJM ; Peel, MC ; Wagener, T ; Western, AW ; Woods, RA ; Zhang, L (ELSEVIER, 2021-06-28)
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    Many Commonly Used Rainfall‐Runoff Models Lack Long, Slow Dynamics: Implications for Runoff Projections
    Fowler, K ; Knoben, W ; Peel, M ; Peterson, T ; Ryu, D ; Saft, M ; Seo, K ; Western, A (American Geophysical Union (AGU), 2020-05)
    Evidence suggests that catchment state variables such as groundwater can exhibit multiyear trends. This means that their state may reflect not only recent climatic conditions but also climatic conditions in past years or even decades. Here we demonstrate that five commonly used conceptual “bucket” rainfall‐runoff models are unable to replicate multiyear trends exhibited by natural systems during the “Millennium Drought” in south‐east Australia. This causes an inability to extrapolate to different climatic conditions, leading to poor performance in split sample tests. Simulations are examined from five models applied in 38 catchments, then compared with groundwater data from 19 bores and Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment data for two geographic regions. Whereas the groundwater and Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment data decrease from high to low values gradually over the duration of the 13‐year drought, the model storages go from high to low values in a typical seasonal cycle. This is particularly the case in the drier, flatter catchments. Once the drought begins, there is little room for decline in the simulated storage, because the model “buckets” are already “emptying” on a seasonal basis. Since the effects of sustained dry conditions cannot accumulate within these models, we argue that they should not be used for runoff projections in a drying climate. Further research is required to (a) improve conceptual rainfall‐runoff models, (b) better understand circumstances in which multiyear trends in state variables occur, and (c) investigate links between these multiyear trends and changes in rainfall‐runoff relationships in the context of a changing climate.
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    Simulating Runoff Under Changing Climatic Conditions: A Framework for Model Improvement
    Fowler, K ; Coxon, G ; Freer, J ; Peel, M ; Wagener, T ; Western, A ; Woods, R ; Zhang, L (American Geophysical Union, 2018-10-01)
    Rainfall-runoff models are often deficient under changing climatic conditions, yet almost no recent studies propose new or improved model structures, instead focusing on model intercomparison, input sensitivity, and/or quantification of uncertainty. This paucity of progress in model development is (in part) due to the difficulty of distinguishing which cases of model failure are truly caused by structural inadequacy. Here we propose a new framework to diagnose the salient cause of poor model performance in changing climate conditions, be it structural inadequacy, poor parameterization, or data errors. The framework can be applied to a single catchment, although larger samples of catchments are helpful to generalize and/or cross-check results. To generate a diagnosis, multiple historic periods with contrasting climate are defined, and the limits of model robustness and flexibility are explored over each period separately and for all periods together. Numerous data-based checks also supplement the results. Using a case study catchment from Australia, improved inference of structural failure and clearer evaluation of model structural improvements are demonstrated. This framework enables future studies to (i) identify cases where poor simulations are due to poor calibration methods or data errors, remediating these cases without recourse to structural changes; and (ii) use the remaining cases to gain greater clarity into what structural changes are needed to improve model performance in changing climate.
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    Improved Rainfall‐Runoff Calibration for Drying Climate: Choice of Objective Function
    Fowler, K ; Peel, M ; Western, A ; Zhang, L (American Geophysical Union, 2018-05)
    It has been widely shown that rainfall‐runoff models often provide poor and biased simulations after a change in climate, but evidence suggests existing models may be capable of better simulations if calibration strategies are improved. Common practice is to use “least squares”‐type objective functions, which focus on hydrological behavior during high flows. However, simulation of a drying climate may require a more balanced consideration of other parts of the flow regime, including mid‐low flows and drier years in the calibration period, as a closer analogue of future conditions. Here we systematically test eight objective functions over 86 catchments and five conceptual model structures in southern and eastern Australia. We focus on performance when evaluated over multiyear droughts. The results show significant improvements are possible compared to least squares calibration. In particular, the Refined Index of Agreement (based on sum of absolute error, not sum of squared error) and a new objective function called the Split KGE (which gives equal weight to each year in the calibration series) give significantly better split‐sample results than least squares approaches. This improvement held for all five model structures, regardless of basin characteristics such as slope, vegetation, and across a range of climatic conditions (e.g., mean precipitation between 500 and 1,500 mm/yr). We recommend future studies to avoid least squares approaches (e.g., optimizing NSE or KGE with no prior transformation on streamflow) and adopt these alternative methods, wherever simulations in a drying climate are required.
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    Simulating runoff under changing climatic conditions: Revisiting an apparent deficiency of conceptual rainfall-runoff models
    Fowler, KJA ; Peel, MC ; Western, AW ; Zhang, L ; Peterson, TJ (AMER GEOPHYSICAL UNION, 2016-03-01)