HydroBlocks: a field-scale resolving land surface model for application over continental extents

Nathaniel W. Chaney, Peter Metcalfe, Eric F. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Land surface spatial heterogeneity plays a significant role in the water, energy, and carbon cycles over a range of temporal and spatial scales. Until now, the representation of this spatial heterogeneity in land surface models has been limited to over simplistic schemes because of computation and environmental data limitations. This study introduces HydroBlocks – a novel land surface model that represents field-scale spatial heterogeneity of land surface processes through interacting hydrologic response units (HRUs). HydroBlocks is a coupling between the Noah-MP land surface model and the Dynamic TOPMODEL hydrologic model. The HRUs are defined by clustering proxies of the drivers of spatial heterogeneity using high-resolution land data. The clustering mechanism allows for each HRU's results to be mapped out in space, facilitating field-scale application and validation. The Little Washita watershed in the USA is used to assess HydroBlocks' performance and added benefit from traditional land surface models. A comparison between the semi-distributed and fully distributed versions of the model suggests that using 1000 HRUs is sufficient to accurately approximate the fully distributed solution. A preliminary evaluation of model performance using available in situ soil moisture observations suggests that HydroBlocks is generally able to reproduce the observed spatial and temporal dynamics of soil moisture. Model performance deficiencies can be primarily attributed to parameter uncertainty. HydroBlocks' ability to explicitly resolve field-scale spatial heterogeneity while only requiring an increase in computation of one to two orders of magnitude when compared with existing land surface models is encouraging – ensemble field-scale land surface modelling over continental extents is now possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3543-3559
Number of pages17
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number20
StatePublished - Sep 30 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • hydrologic similarity
  • land surface modelling
  • spatial heterogeneity


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