Knowledge gaps in our perceptual model of Great Britain's hydrology

Thorsten Wagener*, Simon J. Dadson, David M. Hannah, Gemma Coxon, Keith Beven, John P. Bloomfield, Wouter Buytaert, Hannah Cloke, Paul Bates, Joseph Holden, Louise Parry, Rob Lamb, Nick A. Chappell, Matthew Fry, Gareth Old

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
46 Downloads (Pure)


There is a no lack of significant open questions in the field of hydrology. How will hydrological connectivity between freshwater bodies be altered by future human alterations to the hydrological cycle? Where does water go when it rains? Or what is the future space–time variability of flood and drought events? However, the answers to these questions will vary with location due to the specific and often poorly understood local boundary conditions and system properties that control the functional behaviour of a catchment or any other hydrologic control volume. We suggest that an open, shared and evolving perceptual model of a region's hydrology is critical to tailor our science questions, as it would be for any other study domain from the plot to the continental scale. In this opinion piece, we begin to discuss the elements of and point out some knowledge gaps in the perceptual model of the terrestrial water cycle of Great Britain. We discuss six major knowledge gaps and propose four key ways to reduce them. While the specific knowledge gaps in our perceptual model do not necessarily transfer to other places, we believe that the development of such perceptual models should be at the core of the debate for all hydrologic communities, and we encourage others to have a similar debate for their hydrologic domain.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14288
Number of pages13
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number7
Early online date28 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This contribution arose from the discussions held by the British Hydrological Society Working Group on the Future of Hydrology. We thank Tracey Haxton for her suggestions. JPB publishes with the permission of the Executive Director of the British Geological Survey (NERC). Partial support for this work was provided by NERC (NE/V009060/1; NE/V009087/1; NE/V009303/1; NE/V009079/1). Funding for TW has been provided by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in the framework of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship endowed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. PB is supported by a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit award. JH is supported by the NERC Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme. We thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editor Prof. Jim Buttle for their positive and constructive feedback on the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Hydrological Processes published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • catchments
  • hydrology
  • knowledge gaps
  • perceptual model
  • science questions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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