Can local drain flow measurements be utilized to improve catchment scale modelling?

Ida Karlsson Seidenfaden, Xin He, Anne Lausten Hansen, Bo V. Iversen, Anker Lajer Højberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Tile drains constitute a shortcut from agricultural fields to surface water systems, significantly altering the transport pathways and fate of nitrate during transport. A correct representation of tile drainage flow is thus crucial for estimating nitrate load at the catchment scale and to identify optimal locations for N-mitigation measures. Drainage is a local process, controlled by local properties and drain configurations, which are rarely known for individual fields, making drainage flow and transport a challenging task in catchment scale models. This study tests the potential for improving drainage flow dynamics at catchment scale, by utilising local drainage flow measurements in a spatial calibration scheme. A distributed hydrological model, MIKE SHE, for the agricultural-dominated Norsminde catchment (145 km2) in Denmark, was calibrated using spatially distributed surrogate parameters (pilot points) to represent heterogeneity in the soil (top 3 m) and the deeper geology below 3 m. The model was calibrated using hydraulic heads, stream discharge, and measured drainage flow from eight drain catchments. Drain measurements were very important in guiding the calibration of top 3 m and subsurface pilot points located in the drainage fields, showing that drain flow hold information on both local (shallow) and regional (deeper) flow patterns. Contrarily, pilot points located outside the drained fields were mainly sensitive to the hydraulic head measurements and the summer water balance of the stream discharge on a catchment scale. Consequently, incorporation of the drain data improved local performance, but did not improve the parameterization and drain description of the entire catchment. Exploitation of the drain flow information is thus difficult beyond the drain catchments, and other approaches are needed to extrapolate and exploit the local data.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100170
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Hydrology X
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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