Assessment of catchment response and calibration of a hydrological model using high-frequency discharge–nitrate concentration data

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This study uses a high-frequency discharge and nitrate concentration dataset from the Weida catchment in Germany for the catchment scale hydrologic response analysis. Nitrate transport in the catchment is mostly conservative as indicated by the nitrate stable isotope (δ15N and δ18O) analysis. Discharge–nitrate concentration data from the catchment show distinctive patterns, suggesting flushing and dilution response. A self-organizing feature map-based methodology was employed to identify such patterns or cluster in the datasets. Based on knowledge of the catchment conditions and prevailing understanding of discharge–nitrate concentration relationship, the clusters were characterized into five qualitative flow responses: (1) baseflow; (2) subsurface flow increase; (3) surface runoff increase; (4) surface runoff recession; and (5) subsurface flow decrease. Such qualitative flowpaths were used as soft data for a multi-objective calibration of a hydrological model (WaSiM-ETH). The calibration led to a reasonable simulation of overall discharge (Nash–Sutcliffe coefficient: 0.84) and qualitative flowpaths (76% agreement). A prerequisite for using such methodology is limited biogeochemical transformation of nitrate (such as denitrification).

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