Legacy, rather than adequacy, drives the selection of hydrological models

N. Addor, L. A. Melsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


The findings of hydrological modeling studies depend on which model was used. Although hydrological model selection is a crucial step, experience suggests that hydrologists tend to stick to the model they have experience with, and rarely switch to competing models, although these models might be more adequate given the study objectives. To gain quantitative insights into model selection, we explored the use of seven rainfall-runoff models based on the abstract of 1,529 peer-reviewed papers published between 1991 and 2018. The models selected were the Hydrologiska Byråns Vattenbalansavdelning model (HBV), the Variable Infiltration Capacity model (VIC), the mesoscale Hydrological model (mHM), the TOPography-based hydrologic model (TOPMODEL), the Precipitation Runoff Modelling System (PRMS), the Génie Rural model à 4 paramètres Journaliers (GR4J), and the Sacramento soil moisture accounting model. We provide quantitative evidence of regional preferences in model use across the world and demonstrate that specific models are consistently preferred by certain institutes. Model attachment is particularly strong. In ~74% of the studies, the model selected can be predicted solely based on the affiliation of the first author. The influence of adequacy on the model selection process is less clear. Our data reveal that each model is used across a wide range of purposes, landscapes, and temporal and spatial scales (i.e., as a model of everything and everywhere). Model intercomparisons can provide guidance for model selection and improve model adequacy, but they are still rare (because each model must usually be setup individually) and the insights they provide are currently limited (because they are rarely controlled experiments). We suggest that moving from fixed-structure models to modular modeling frameworks (master templates for model generation) can overcome these issues, enable a more collaborative and responsive model development environment, and result in improved model adequacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-390
Number of pages13
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number1
Early online date26 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • bibliometric study
  • community model
  • model evaluation
  • model selection
  • modular modeling frameworks
  • text mining

Cite this