Evaluation of the performance of Euro-CORDEX regional climate models for assessing hydrological climate change impacts in Great Britain: a comparison of different spatial resolutions and quantile mapping bias correction methods

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Regional Climate Models (RCMs) are an essential tool for analysing regional climate change impacts, such as hydrological change, as they provide simulations with more small-scale details and expected smaller errors than global climate models. There has been much effort to increase the spatial resolution and simulation skill of RCMs (i.e. through bias correction), yet the extent to which this improves the projection of hydrological change is unclear. Here, we evaluate the skill of five reanalysis-driven Euro-CORDEX RCMs in simulating precipitation and temperature, and as drivers of a hydrological model to simulate river flow on four UK catchments covering different physical, climatic and hydrological characteristics. We use a comprehensive range of evaluation indices for aspects of the distribution such as means and extremes, as well as for the structure of time series. We test whether high-resolution RCMs provide added value, through analysis of two RCM resolutions, 0.44° (50 km) and 0.11° (12.5 km), which are also bias-corrected employing the parametric quantile-mapping (QM) method, using the normal distribution for temperature, and the Gamma (GQM) and Double Gamma (DGQM) distributions for precipitation. The performance of these is considered for a range of meteorological variables and for the skill in simulating hydrological impacts at the catchment scale.

In a small catchment with complex topography, the 0.11° RCMs clearly outperform their 0.44° version for precipitation and temperature, but when used in combination with the hydrological model, fail to capture the observed river flow distribution. In the other (larger) catchments, only one high-resolution RCM consistently outperforms its low-resolution version, implying that in general there is no added value from using the high-resolution RCMs in those catchments. Both resolutions produce river flow simulations that cover the observed flow duration curve, but the ensemble spread is large and therefore the simulations are difficult to use in practice. GQM decreases most of the simulation biases, except for extreme precipitation and high flows, which are further decreased by DGQM, which also reduces the multi-model simulation spread. Bias correction does not improve the representation of daily temporal variability measured by the Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency Index, but it does for monthly variability, in particular when applying DGQM, which reduces most of the simulation biases. Overall, an increase in RCM resolution does not imply a better simulation of hydrology and bias-correction represents an alternative to ease decision-making.


Original languageEnglish
Article number124653
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Early online date13 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • RCM, quantile mapping, CORDEX, climate change, hydrological modelling, HEC-HMS