Single-objective vs. multi-objective autocalibration in modelling total suspended solids and phosphorus in a small agricultural watershed with SWAT

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To obtain greater precision in modelling small agricultural watersheds, a shorter simulation time step is beneficial. A daily time step better represents the dynamics of pollutants in the river and provides more realistic simulation results. However, with a daily evaluation performance, good fits are rarely obtained. With the Shuffled Complex Evolution (SCE) method embedded in the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), two calibration approaches are available, single-objective or multi-objective optimization. The goal of the present study is to evaluate which approach can improve the daily performance with SWAT, in modelling flow (Q), total suspended solids (TSS) and total phosphorus (TP). The influence of weights assigned to the different variables included in the objective function has also been tested. The results showed that: (i) the model performance depends not only on the choice of calibration approach, but essentially on the influential parameters; (ii) the multi-objective calibration estimating at once all parameters related to all measured variables is the best approach to model Q, TSS and TP; (iii) changing weights does not improve model performance; and (iv) with a single-objective optimization, an excellent water quality modelling performance may hide a loss of performance of predicting flows and unbalanced internal model components.

Keywords: calibration, parameter estimation, sensitivity analysis, water quality modeling

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