The Performance of Physically Based and Conceptual Hydrologic Models: A Case Study for Makkah Watershed, Saudi Arabia
Population growth and land use modification in urban areas require the use of accurate tools for rainfall-runoff modeling, especially where the topography is complex. The recent improvement in the quality and resolution of remotely sensed precipitation satisfies a major need for such tools. A physically-based, fully distributed hydrologic model and a conceptual semi-distributed model, forced by satellite rainfall estimates, were used to simulate flooding events in a very arid, rapidly urbanizing watershed in Saudi Arabia. Observed peak discharge for two flood events was used to compare hydrographs simulated by the two models, one for calibration and one for validation. To further explore the effect of watershed heterogeneity, the hydrographs produced by three implementations of the conceptual were compared against each other and against the output of the physically-based model. The results showed the ability of the distributed models to capture the effect of the complex topography and variability of land use and soils of the watershed. In general, the GSSHA model required less calibration and performed better than HEC-HMS. This study confirms that the semi-distributed HEC-HMS model cannot be used without calibration, while the GSSHA model can be the best option in the case of a lack of data. Although the two models showed good agreement at the calibration point, there were significant differences in the runoff, discharge, and infiltration values at interior points of the watershed.