Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
© Author(s) 2015. CC Attribution 3.0 License.
Hydrological hysteresis and its value for assessing process
consistency in catchment conceptual models
O. Fovet1,2 , L. Ruiz1,2 , M. Hrachowitz3 , M. Faucheux1,2 , and C. Gascuel-Odoux1,2
UMR1069 SAS, 65 route de Saint Brieuc, 35042 Rennes, France
Ouest, UMR1069 SAS, 65 route de Saint Brieuc, 35042 Rennes, France
3 Delft University of Technology, Water Resources Section, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Applied Geosciences,
Stevinweg 1, 2600 GA Delft, the Netherlands
2 Agrocampus
Correspondence to: O. Fovet ([email protected])
Received: 10 April 2014 – Published in Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss.: 28 May 2014
Revised: 28 November 2014 – Accepted: 2 December 2014 – Published: 7 January 2015
Abstract. While most hydrological models reproduce the
general flow dynamics, they frequently fail to adequately
mimic system-internal processes. In particular, the relationship between storage and discharge, which often follows
annual hysteretic patterns in shallow hard-rock aquifers, is
rarely considered in modelling studies. One main reason is
that catchment storage is difficult to measure, and another
one is that objective functions are usually based on individual variables time series (e.g. the discharge). This reduces the
ability of classical procedures to assess the relevance of the
conceptual hypotheses associated with models.
We analysed the annual hysteric patterns observed between stream flow and water storage both in the saturated
and unsaturated zones of the hillslope and the riparian zone
of a headwater catchment in French Brittany (Environmental Research Observatory ERO AgrHys (ORE AgrHys)). The
saturated-zone storage was estimated using distributed shallow groundwater levels and the unsaturated-zone storage using several moisture profiles. All hysteretic loops were characterized by a hysteresis index. Four conceptual models, previously calibrated and evaluated for the same catchment,
were assessed with respect to their ability to reproduce the
hysteretic patterns.
The observed relationship between stream flow and saturated, and unsaturated storages led us to identify four hydrological periods and emphasized a clearly distinct behaviour
between riparian and hillslope groundwaters. Although all
the tested models were able to produce an annual hysteresis loop between discharge and both saturated and unsaturated storage, the integration of a riparian component led to
overall improved hysteretic signatures, even if some misrepresentation remained. Such a system-like approach is likely
to improve model selection.
Rainfall-runoff models are tools that mimic the low-pass filter properties of catchments. Specifically, they aim at reproducing observed stream flow time series by routing time series of meteorological drivers through a sequence of mathematically formalized processes that allow a temporal dispersion of the input signals in a way that is consistent with the
modeller’s conception of how the system functions. The core
of most models, in particular in temperate, humid climates
dominated by some type of subsurface flow, is a series of
storage–discharge functions that, in the most general terms,
express system output (i.e. discharge and evaporation) as a
function of the system state (i.e. storage), thereby generating
a signal that is attenuated and lagged with respect to the input
signal (i.e. precipitation).
However, modelling efforts on the catchment scale typically face the problem that, on that scale, neither integrated
internal fluxes nor the integrated storage and the partitioning
between different storage components at a given time can
be easily observed within limited uncertainty. Indeed, indicators of catchment storage such as groundwater levels and
soil water content can be highly variable in space and exhibit heterogeneous spatio-temporal dynamics. While spatial
aggregation of storage estimates (e.g. catchment averages)
in lumped models may lead to a loss of crucial information
Published by Copernicus Publications on behalf of the European Geosciences Union.
and thus to overly simplistic representations of reality, allowing for the explicit incorporation of spatial storage heterogeneity in (semi-)distributed models may prove elusive
in the presence of data error and the frequent absence of
detailed spatial knowledge of the properties of the flow domain. A time series of groundwater table levels from a single piezometer is not representative of the behaviour of the
groundwater, even on the hillslope scale; therefore, it is difficult to link it with either a reservoir volume simulated by
a lumped model or an average water table level of a grid
point simulated by a fully distributed model. These problems were recently addressed in some studies that intended
to assess catchment storage using all available data (McNamara et al., 2011; Tetzlaff et al., 2011) and showing the
importance of this storage in thresholds observed in the response of discharge to precipitation in catchments. For example, Spence (2010) argued that the observed nonlinear relationships between stream flow and catchment storage (i.e. no
unique storage–discharge relations) are the manifestation of
thresholds occurring in catchment runoff generation. Thus,
depending on the structure of the system, storage–discharge
dynamics can exhibit hysteretic patterns, i.e. the system response depends on the history and the memory of the system
(e.g. Everett and Whitton, 1952; Ali et al., 2011; Gabrielli
et al., 2012; Haught and van Meerveld, 2011). Andermann
et al. (2012) found a hysteretic relationship between precipitation and discharge in both glaciated and unglaciated
catchments in the Himalaya Mountains that was shown to
be due to groundwater storage rather than to snow or glacier
melt. Hrachowitz et al. (2013a), demonstrating the presence
of hysteresis in the distribution of water ages, highlighted
the importance of an adequate characterization of all systemrelevant internal states at a given time to predict the system
response within limited uncertainty as flow can be generated
from different system components depending on the wetness
state of the system.
In catchment-scale rainfall-runoff models, the need for
calibration remains inevitable (Beven, 2001) due to the presence of data errors (e.g. Beven, 2013) and to the typically oversimplified process representations (e.g. Gupta et
al., 2012). In spite of their comparatively high degrees of
freedom, such models are frequently evaluated only against
one single observed output variable, e.g. stream flow. Although the calibrated models may then adequately reproduce
the output variable, model equifinality (e.g. Savenije, 2001)
will lead to many apparently feasible solutions that do not
sufficiently well reproduce system-internal dynamics as they
are mere artefacts of the mathematical optimization process
rather than suitable representations of reality (Gharari et al.,
2013; Hrachowitz et al., 2013b; Andréassian et al., 2012;
Beven, 2006; Kirchner, 2006). The realisation that there is
a need for multivariable and multiobjective model evaluation
strategies to identify and discard solutions that do not satisfy all evaluation criteria applied is therefore gaining ground
(e.g. Freer et al., 1996; Gupta et al., 1998, 2008, GascuelHydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Odoux et al., 2010) as this will eventually lead to models that
are not only capable of reproducing the observed output variables (e.g. stream flow) but that also represent the systeminternal dynamics in a more realistic way (Euser et al., 2013).
The value of such multivariable and/or multiobjective evaluation strategies has been demonstrated in the past, for example
using groundwater levels (e.g. Fenicia et al., 2008; Molénat
et al., 2005, Giustolisi and Simeone, 2006; Freer et al., 2004;
Seibert, 2000; Lamb et al., 1998), soil moisture (Kampf and
Burges, 2007; Parajka et al., 2006), saturated-area extension
(Franks et al., 1998), snow cover patterns (e.g. Nester et
al., 2012), remotely sensed evaporation, (e.g. Mohamed et
al., 2006; Winsemius et al., 2008), stream flow at subcatchment outlets (e.g. Moussa et al., 2007) and even water quality
data such as, e.g., chloride concentrations (Hrachowitz et al.,
2011), atmospheric tracers (Molénat et al., 2013) or nitrates
and sulfate concentrations (Hartmann et al., 2013a) and water isotopes such as δ 18 O (Hartmann et al., 2013b). However,
most studies using multiple response variables only evaluate
them individually to identify Pareto-optimal solutions. This
practice may result in the loss of critical information, such as
the timing between the multiple variables. In other words it
is conceivable that model calibration leads to Pareto-optimal
solutions with adequate model performance for all variables
while at the same time misrepresenting the dynamics between these variables. Instead, using a synthetic catchment
property (Sivapalan et al., 2005) or a hydrological signature
(Wagener and Montanari, 2011; Yadav et al., 2007), combining different variables into one function, may potentially
serve as a instructive diagnostic tool, a calibration objective
or even as a metric for catchment classification (Wagener,
Hysteretic patterns between hydrological variables are potentially good candidates to build such tools. The objective
of this paper is to explore (i) the potential of using annual
hysteric patterns observed between stream flow and water
storage both in the saturated and unsaturated zones of the
hillslope and of the riparian zone for characterizing the hydrological functioning of a small headwater catchment in
French Brittany (Environmental Research Observatory ERO
AgrHys (ORE AgrHys)), (ii) to which degree a suite of conceptual rainfall-runoff models with increasing complexity,
which were calibrated and evaluated for this catchment in
previous work using a flexible modelling framework (Hrachowitz et al., 2014), can reproduce the observed storage–
discharge hysteresis and (iii) whether the use of the storage–
discharge hysteresis can provide additional information for
model diagnostics compared to traditional model evaluation
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Figure 1. Study site in west Brittany (indicated by the square near
Quimper) and location of the monitoring equipments. The weather
station is located 500 m north of the catchment.
Materials and methods
Study sites
Kerrien (10.5 ha) is a headwater catchment located in southwestern Brittany (47◦ 350 N, 117◦ 520 E; see Fig. 1). Elevations range from 14 to 38 m a.s.l.; slopes are less than 8.5 %.
The climate is oceanic, with a mean annual temperature of
11.9 ◦ C with a minimum of 5.9 ◦ C in winter and a maximum
of 17.9 ◦ C in summer. Mean annual rainfall over the period
1992–2012 is 1113 mm (±20 %) and mean annual Penman
potential evapotranspiration (PET) is 700 mm (±4 %). Mean
annual drainage is 360 mm (±60 %) at the outlet. There is a
high water deficit in the annual budget almost every year due
to underflows below the outlet (Ruiz et al., 2002). The catchment lies under granite (leucogranodiorite of Plomelin), the
upper part of which is weathered from 1 to more than 20 m
deep. Soils are mainly sandy loam with an upper horizon rich
in organic matter; depths are between 40 and 90 cm. Soils are
well drained except in the bottomlands, which represent 7 %
of the total area. Agriculture dominates the land use, with
86 % of the total area covered by grassland, maize and wheat,
none of them irrigated. The base flow index is about 80 to
90 %; thus, the hillslope aquifer is the main contributor to
stream flow (Molénat et al., 2008; Ruiz et al., 2002). Both
stream flow and shallow groundwater tables exhibit a strong
annual seasonality in this catchment (Figs. 2 and 3a).
with a shaft encoder with integrated data logger (OTT Thalimedes) and recorded every 10 min since 2000 (E3). Groundwater levels have been monitored every 15 min since 2001 in
three piezometers – F1b, F4, and F5b (Fig. 1) – using vented
pressure probe sensors (OTT Orpheus Mini).
Moisture in the unsaturated zone has been recorded every 30 min since July 2010 at seven depth (25, 55, 85, 125,
165, 215, and 265 cm) and at two locations (sB1 and sB2;
Fig. 1), using capacitive probes which provide volumic humidity based on frequency domain reflectometry (EnvironScan SenteK). Due to technical problems, data are missing in
December 2012 and January 2013, so only 2 complete water
years were available (2010–2011 and 2011–2012). In summary, stream discharge water table levels were considered
for the years 2002–2012, and soil moisture was considered
for the years 2010–2012.
Catchment storage estimates
In order to obtain a proxy for the saturated-zone storage on
the catchment scale, the time series of groundwater level
were normalized between their minimal and maximal values
over the 10 years of records so that the normalized value lies
between 0 and 1. The resulting normalized variable exhibited very similar dynamics among all the piezometers (see
Fig. 2a). However, the piezometer located in the riparian
zone (F1b) exhibited variations at a higher frequency, especially during the winter. Therefore, in the following, we
used the average of the normalized level in the two hillslope
piezometers (F5b, F4) as a proxy for the hillslope groundwater storage dynamics and the normalized level in the riparian
piezometer as a proxy for the riparian groundwater storage
In order to obtain a proxy for the unsaturated-zone storage,
moisture time series were also normalized using the minimal
and maximal values observed in all the sensors of the two
profiles over the 2 water years with complete records, setting the minimal value as 0 and the maximal value as 1. As
the normalized unsaturated storage variables obtained followed very similar trends and dynamics, we used, in the
following, an average of the normalized unsaturated-zone
storage among all the measurement points (depths and profiles) (Fig. 2b). The two profiles are located on the upslope
and downslope parts of the hillslope. Thus, we assumed that
averaging their normalized values will allow us to build a
proxy for the dynamics of the unsaturated-zone storage on
the whole hillslope.
Meteorological data were recorded in an automatic weather
station (CIMEL, Fig. 1) which provides hourly rainfall and
variables required to estimate daily Penman PET (net solar
radiation, air and soil temperatures, wind speed and direction). Discharge was calculated from water level measurements at the outlet (Fig. 1) using a V-notch weir equipped
Hysteresis indexes
Studies on hysteretic relationships in catchments generally
focus on qualitative descriptions of patterns associated with a
cross-correlation analysis between the two variables (Frei et
al., 2010; Hopmans and Bren, 2007; Jung et al., 2004; Salant
et al., 2008; Schwientek et al., 2013; Spence et al., 2010;
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Figure 2. Normalized (a) groundwater levels for piezometers in the hillslope (F4 and F5b) and in the riparian zone (F1b) and (b) average,
maximum and minimum unsaturated-zone storages for all the sensors in the two profiles in the Kerrien catchment.
Velleux et al., 2008). Some authors proposed a typology of
hysteretic loops based on their rotational direction, curvature and trend to identify solute controls during storm events
(Butturini et al., 2008; Evans and Davies, 1998). For storage–
discharge hysteresis on the annual scale, this approach is not
sufficient as the same type of hysteretic loop is likely to happen for almost all the years when a strong seasonality exists
and its pattern is repeated across years. This is the case in our
study, where seasonality of groundwater level and discharge
showed a strong unimodal pattern for all years, except 2011–
2012, which was bimodal (Figs. 2 and 3a). Moreover, a preliminary cross-correlation analysis revealed that storage and
stream flow are strongly correlated, and the cross-correlation
value is the greatest for a lag time of 0 days (results not
Quantitative descriptions of the hysteretic loop are also
found in the literature, and various ways of computing hysteresis indexes (HIs) have been proposed, for example using
the relative difference between extreme concentration values
(Butturini et al., 2008) or using the ratio of turbidity values
in rising and falling limbs of the storm hydrograph at the
midpoint discharge value (Lawler et al., 2006). The latter authors argue that computing HIs by using midpoint discharge
usually allows avoiding the small convolutions which are frequently observed at both ends of the hysteretic loop.
In this paper, as the hydrological variables exhibit a strong
annual unimodal cycle, we calculated the hysteresis index
each year as the difference between water storages at the
dates of midpoint discharge in the two phases of the hydrological year – during the recharge period (R) and the recession period (r), i.e. respectively before and after reaching the
maximal discharge Qmax – as follows:
HI = S tR,mid − S tr,mid
Q tR,mid = Qmid and tR,mid < tQmax
tr,mid = Qmid and tr,mid > tQmax ,
Q tQmax = Qmax
where S(t) is the storage value at time t and Q(t) the stream
flow value at time t. The midpoint discharge Qmid is defined as the mean value of discharge between Q0 , the initial
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
value at the beginning of the hydrological year (October),
and Qmax , the maximal value reached during that year:
Qmid =
Q0 + Qmax
In order to reduce the impact of the quick variations of discharge or groundwater level due to individual storm events,
we smoothed the time series using 7-day moving averages.
The strong seasonal discharge cycle led us to identify two
occurrences of Qmid per year only – during the recharge period (tR ) and during the recession period (tr ) – while high
and low stream flow values are taken several times per year
as explained by Lawler et al. (2006). Computing the HI using the difference in storage was possible here because storage and stream flow values vary among years within a narrow range of magnitude, while Lawler et al. (2006) used the
ratio because turbidity can differ by several orders of magnitude from one storm to the other. Computing the HI with the
difference between the values of storage and not with their
ratio allowed maintaining its sensitivity to the year-to-year
variations of the width of the hysteretic loop. The difference
in water storage dynamics in the unsaturated and saturated
zones were approximated by the difference in normalized
soil moisture content and by the difference in normalized
groundwater level respectively.
The HI gives two types of information: (i) its sign indicates
the direction of the loop (anticlockwise loop induces a negative value of the HI, whereas a clockwise loop leads to a positive value of the HI) and (ii) its absolute value is proportional
to the magnitude of the hysteresis (i.e. the width of the hysteretic loop). The HI is a proxy for the importance of lag time
response between variations in catchment storages (unsaturated and saturated) and stream discharge; its sign indicates
whether storage reacts before or after the stream flow. Therefore, it can be used for comparing the capacity of the different
models to reproduce to some extent the observed storage–
discharge relationships. The normalization of the observed
variables related to the storage (here either groundwater level
or soil moisture) has no effect on the sign of the HI; the HI
values are only being divided by the maximal amplitude obwww.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/19/105/2015/
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Figure 3. (a) Observed (red line) and modelled runoff for model set-ups (A) M1, (B) M2, (C) M3 and (D) M4 in calibration and independent
evaluation (validation) periods. Modelled runoff shown as the most balanced solution (dark blue line) and the 5/95th uncertainty bounds
(light blue shaded area). Adapted from Hrachowitz et al. (2014). (b) Overall model performance for all model set-ups (M1–M4) expressed as
Euclidean distance from the “perfect model” computed from all calibration objectives and signatures with respect to calibration and validation
periods. Triangles represent the optimal solution, i.e. the solution obtained from the parameter set with the lowest Euclidean distance during
calibration. Box plots represent the Euclidean distance for the complete sets of all feasible solutions (the dots indicate 5/95th percentiles, the
whiskers 10/90th percentiles and the horizontal central line the median). From Hrachowitz et al. (2014).
served in the storage during the whole period. Therefore, as
long as the normalization is applied to the whole period (to
all years and to both measurements and simulations), it does
not affect the interpretation related to absolute values of the
In previous work, a range of conceptual models was calibrated and evaluated for the Kerrien catchment in a stepwww.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/19/105/2015/
wise development using a flexible modelling framework (see
Hrachowitz et al., 2014). This section aims at summarizing
the results of this previous study as they are used as a basis for the present work. In this previous study, adopting
a flexible stepwise modelling strategy, 11 models with increasing complexity, i.e. allowing for more process heterogeneity, were calibrated and evaluated for the study catchment. Four of these 11 models (hereafter referred to as M1
to M4; details given in Tables 1 and 2) were selected for the
present work as they correspond to the sequence of model
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Table 1. Water balance and state and flux equations of the models used.
Water balance
Unsaturated zone
dSU /dt = P − EU − RF − RP − RS
M1, 2, 3, & 4
Flux and state equations
EU = EP Min 1, S SU L1
RU = (1 − CR ) P
RF = CR (1− CP ) P RS = Pmax S SU
−S /S
CR =
U Umax,H +0.5
Fast reservoir
dSF /dt = RF − QF − EF
M1, 2, 3, & 4
EF = Min EP − EU , SF,in − QF
dSS /dt = RS + RP − QS
SS,in = SS +
RS + RP QS = SS,in 1 − e−kS t
Ss,a − Max 0, SS,tot,out , SS,tot,in > 0
0, SS,tot,in ≤ 0
Ss,p + Min 0, SS,tot,out , SS,tot,in > 0
dSs,p /dt =
Ss,p + SS,tot,out , SS,tot,in ≤ 0
dSs,a /dt =
dSs /dt = dSs,a /dt + dSs,p /dt = RS + RP − QL,cst
Unsaturated riparian zone
dSU,R /dt = P − EU,R − RR
M1, 2, 3, & 4
M1, 2, 3, & 4
M1, 2, 3, & 4
M1, 2, 3, & 4
M1, 2, 3, & 4
M1, 2, 3, & 4
M1, 2, 3, & 4
M2, 3 & 4
M2, 3 & 4
QS = Max 0, QS,tot − QL,cst
M2, 3 & 4
M2, 3 & 4
M2, 3 & 4
SS,tot,in = Ss,a + Ss,p + RS + RP
SS,tot,in e−kS t − kL,cst 1 − e−kS t , SS,tot,in > 0
SS,tot,out =
SS,tot,in − QL,cst , SS,tot,in ≤ 0
QL,cst = constant
EU,R = EP Min 1, S U,R L1
M2, 3 & 4
M3 & 4
dSR /dt = RR − QR − ER
CR,R = Min 1, S
Umax,R βR
CR,R = Min 1, S U,R
Riparian reservoir
M1, 2, 3, & 4
SF,in = SF +
QF = SF,in 1 − e−kF t
Slow reservoir
M3 & 4
SR,in = SR +
QR = SR,in 1 − e−kR t
ER = Min EP − EU,R , SR,in − QR
Total runoff
QT = QF + QS
M1 & 2
Total evaporative fluxes
QT = (1 − f ) (QF + QS ) + f QR
EA = EU + EF
EA = (1 − f ) (EU + EF ) + f EU,R + ER
M3 & 4
M1 & 2
M3 & 4
M2, 3 & 4
M3 & 4
M3 & 4
M3 & 4
M3 & 4
M3 & 4
List of symbols: CP – preferential recharge coefficient [-]; P – total precipitation [L T−1 ]; SF – storage in fast reservoir [L]; CR – hillslope runoff generation coefficient [-]; EF – transpiration fast responding reservoir [L T−1 ]; SR – storage in riparian reservoir [L];
CR,R – riparian runoff generation coefficient [-]; EP – potential evaporation [L T−1 ]; SS – storage in slow reservoir [L]; kF – storage coefficient of fast reservoir [T−1 ]; ER – transpiration from riparian reservoir [L T−1 ]; SS,a – active storage in slow reservoir [L]; kS
– storage coefficient of slow reservoir [T−1 ]; EU – transpiration from unsaturated reservoir [L T−1 ]; SS,p – passive storage in slow reservoir [L]; kL – storage coefficient for deep infiltration loss [T−1 ]; EU,R – transpiration unsaturated riparian reservoir [L T−1 ];
SS,tot – total storage in slow reservoir [L]; kR – storage coefficient of riparian reservoir [T−1 ]; QR – runoff from riparian reservoir [L T−1 ]; SU – storage in unsaturated reservoir [L]; f – proportion wetlands in the catchment [-]; QS – runoff from slow reservoir
[L T−1 ]; SS,tot,in – total storage incoming in slow reservoir [L]; LP – transpiration threshold [-]; QF – runoff from fast reservoir [L T−1 ]; SS,tot,out – total storage outcoming from slow reservoir [L]; Pmax – percolation capacity [L T−1 ]; QL,const – constant deep
infiltration loss [L T−1 ]; SUmax,H – unsaturated hillslope storage capacity [L]; RF – recharge of fast reservoir [L T−1 ]; SUmax,R – unsaturated riparian storage capacity [L]; RP – preferential recharge of slow reservoir [L T−1 ]; β – hillslope shape parameter for CR
[–]; RR – recharge of riparian reservoir [L T−1 ]; βR – riparian shape parameter for CR,R [-]; RS – recharge of slow reservoir [L T−1 ]; RU – infiltration into unsaturated reservoir [L T−1 ].
architectures that provide the most significant performance
improvements among the tested set-ups. As a starting point
and benchmark, Model M1 with seven parameters, resembling many frequently used catchment models, such as HBV,
was used (e.g. Bergström, 1995). The three boxes represent
respectively an unsaturated zone, a slow-responding and a
fast-responding reservoir. In Model M2, additional deep infiltration losses are integrated from the slow store to take into
account the significant groundwater export to adjacent catchments in this study catchment as indicated by the observed
long-term water balance (Ruiz et al., 2002). This is done by
adding a second outlet together with a threshold to this storage to allow for continued groundwater export from a storage volume below the stream during zero-flow conditions,
i.e. when the stream runs dry. As riparian zones frequently
exhibit a distinct hydrological functioning (e.g. Molénat et
al., 2005; Seibert et al., 2003), indicated in the study catchment by distinct response dynamics in the riparian piezometers (Martin et al., 2006), Models M3 and M4 additionally integrate a wetland/riparian zone component, composed of an
unsaturated-zone store and a fast-responding reservoir, parallel to the other boxes. The riparian unsaturated zone generates flow using a linear function in M3 and a nonlinear func-
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
tion in M4. The complete set of water balance and constitutive model equations of the four models is listed in Table 1,
while the model structures are schematized in Table 2.
Calibration and evaluation
This section is also a summary of the findings of Hrachowitz
et al. (2014) that served as a basis for this study and does
not consist of the results of the current study. The models have been calibrated for the period 1 October 2002–
30 September 2007 after a 1-year warm-up period, using a
multiobjective calibration strategy (e.g. Gupta et al., 1998)
based on Monte Carlo sampling (107 realizations). The uniform prior parameter distributions used for M1–M4 are provided in Table 3. To reduce parameter and associated predictive uncertainty, the models were calibrated using a total of four calibration objective functions (see Table 4), i.e.
the Nash–Sutcliffe efficiencies (Nash and Sutcliffe, 1970) for
stream flow (ENS,Q ), for the logarithm of the stream flow
(ENS,log(Q) ) and for the flow duration curve (ENS,FDC ) as
well as the volumetric efficiency for stream flow (VE,Q ; Criss
and Winston, 2008). To facilitate a clearer assessment, the
calibration objective functions (n = 4) were combined in a
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Table 2. Model structures and parameters.
Table 2. Model structures and parameters.
2. structure
Model structures and parameters.
Model structure
Table 2. Model structures and parameters.
M1 M1 kF , kS , Pmax
,kL, Pk, SPUmax,H
(1.1) to (1.6); (2.1) to (2.4);
(3.3);to (2.4); (3.1) to (3.3); (6
2. Model structures and parameters.
F S, max, LP, SUmax,H, β, CP
Model structure
Model structure
β, CkFP, kS, Pmax
, LP, SUmax,H, β, CP
M2 M2 M2
, LCPP,,QSL,cst
to (2.4);
(3.4) to (3.10); (
kFkF,, kSS,P, max
, , β, CP, QL,cst(1.1) (1.1)
to (1.6);
, LkF, ,S, kL
to (1.6);
& (7.1)
P ,max
kF, kS,Pmax, LPP, SUmax,H
(1.1) to (1.6); (2.1) to (2.4); (3.4) to (3.10); (6.1) & (7.1)
Umax,H, β, CP, QL,cst
, LP, SUmax,H, β, CP, QL,cst
(1.6); (2.1) to (2.4); (3.4) to (3.10); (6.1) & (7.1)
β, CkFP, ,kSQ
kF, kS, Pmax
, LP, SUmax,H, β, CP
kF, kS, Pmax, LP, SUmax,H, β, CP
M3 M3
CP,,QQL,cst, k, Rk, f,, f,
to (1.6);
to (2.4);
(3.4) to(3.4)
to (4.4);
to (5.4);
Umax,H,, β,
kF,kkkF,S,,kkSP, max
, L, ,PL,LP,S,SUmax,H
to (1.6);
to (2.4);
to (4.1)
to (5.4);
P , QL,cst, k R, f,
to (2.4);
(3.4) toto
to (5.4);
& (6.2) &
kFF kS,SP,max
to (1.6);
P SSUmax,H
L,cst R SUmax,R
kF, kS, Pmax, LP, SUmax,H, β, CP, QL,cst, f, kR, SUmax,R, βR
DE =
1 − ENS,Q
+ 1 − ENS,log(Q)
+ 1 − EV,Q
(1.1) to (1.6); (2.1) to (2.4); (3.4) to (3.10); (4.1) to (4.3); (4.5); (5.1) to (5.4);
kS, L,P,PSUmax,H
, , βR (1.1) to(1.1)
to (1.6);
(2.4); (3.4) to (3.10);
max ,, β,LCPP,, QSL,cst
kF, kkS,FP,max
, f, kR, SUmax,R
(1.6); (2.1)
to (2.4);(2.1)
& (7.2)(4.1) to (4.3); (4.5); (5.1) to (5.4);
kF, kS, Pβ,
, LP,,SQ
, β, C , Q ,, f, kR, SUmax,R, βR
to (1.6);
(2.1) to (4.5);
(4.1) to (4.3); (4.5); (5.1) to (5.4);
& to
to (4.3);
P Umax,H
L,cst , fP , kL,cst
(6.2) & (7.2)
SUmax,R , βR
(6.2) & (7.2)
kF, kS, Pmax, LP, SUmax,H, β, CP, QL,cst, f, kR, SUmax,R, βR
single calibration metric: the Euclidean distance to the perfect model (DE,cal ; e.g. Hrachowitz et al., 2013a; GascuelOdoux et al., 2010):
(1.1) to (1.6); (2.1) to (2.4);
(3.1) to (3.3); (6.1) & (7.1)
(1.1) to (1.6); (2.1) to (2.4); (3.1) to (3.3); (6.1) & (7.1)
(7.2)to (2.4); (3.4) to (3.10); (4.1) to (4.4
M3 β, C , Q
kF, kSS,Umax,R
to (1.6);
max, LP, SUmax,H, β, CP, QL,cst, k(4.1)
R, f, to (4.4);
(6.2) & (7.2)
L,cst , kR , f ,
(6.1) &
to (1.6); (2.1)
to (2.4); (3.1) to (3.3); (6.1) & (7.1)
+ 1 − ENS,FDC
As mathematically optimal parameter sets are frequently hydrologically suboptimal, i.e. unrealistic (e.g. Beven, 2006),
all parameter sets within the 4-dimensional space spanned by
the calibration Pareto fronts, as approximated by the cloud of
sample points, were retained as feasible.
The calibrated models were then evaluated against their respective skills to predict the system response with respect to
a selection of 13 catchment signatures (described in Table 4)
in a multicriteria posterior evaluation strategy. Figure 3 and
Table 4 show the global performance DE of the four models in terms of the Euclidean distance to the perfect model,
constructed from all calibration objective functions and evaluation signatures. Model M1 provided good performance in
calibration on the objective functions while its validation performances were considerably decreased. Its ability to reproduce the different signatures showed that it failed in particular to reproduce flow in wet periods (such as the evaluation
period in Fig. 3a) and groundwater dynamics. Model M2 led
to calibration performances slightly lower than model M1 but
higher validation performances. The hydrological signatures
(1.1) to (1.6); (2.1) to (2.4); (3.4) to (3.10); (4.1) to (4.3
(6.2) & (7.2)
simulated by M2 exhibited lower uncertainties both in validation and calibration periods because of a better simulation
of low-flow conditions and groundwater dynamics. Model
M3 provided similar performances to M2 for calibration and
for validation but with clearly reduced uncertainty bounds.
Overall signature reproduction was improved because of a
clear improvement of low-flow and groundwater-related signatures even if performance in calibration objective functions
remained lower than that for model M1. Model M4 exhibited
similar performances to the previous models both in calibration and validation periods but a better performance for the
whole set of signatures and lower uncertainties.
More details on the model calibration and evaluation with
respect to hydrological signatures can be found in Hrachowitz et al. (2014; note that M1, M2 , M3 and M4 presented in this study correspond respectively to M1, M6, M8
and M11 in the original paper). Within the obtained range
of parameter uncertainty, the types of simulated hysteresis
patterns were not affected by the parameter values but only
by the model structures. Note that we restricted the following analysis only to the optimal parameter set in each case,
first for the sake of clarity and also because, at this stage,
our interest was in assessing the ability of model structures
to reproduce the observed general features in hysteresis pat-
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
[d−1 ]
[d−1 ]
[d−1 ]
[mm d−1 ]
[mm d−1 ]
Table 3. Prior and posterior distribution of the model parameters.
Prior distribution
Posterior distribution
∗ Fixed parameter values.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
terns and not in quantifying their performance in fitting the
In the present work the sensitivity of the hysteresis indexes
to parameter uncertainty is investigated by computing the HI
values for the all sets of feasible parameters.
Results and discussion
Hysteretic pattern of the groundwater
storage–discharge relationship
Observations in hillslope and riparian zones:
saturated storage vs. flow
The 2-dimensional observed relationship between saturated
storage in the hillslope (HSS) or in the riparian zone (RSS)
and stream discharge (Q) for each year was hysteretic, highlighting the nonuniqueness of the response of discharge to
storage depending on the initial conditions and a lag time
between both variable dynamics, in particular during the
recharge period, as illustrated in Fig. 4 for two contrasting
water years.
The direction of the hysteretic loop was different depending on the topographic position of the piezometer: loops were
always anticlockwise (leading to negative values of the HI)
for the piezometer located at the top of the hillslope HSSF5b(Q), mostly anticlockwise for the midslope piezometer
HSS-F4(Q) and mostly clockwise (positive values of the HI)
for the piezometer in the riparian zone RSS-F1b(Q) (Fig. 5).
In the riparian zone, storage at Qmid was usually lower in
the recession period than in the recharge period, especially
in dry years, leading to a positive HI. This is due to the fact
that the riparian groundwater level increased early at the beginning of the recharge period, before the stream discharge,
due to the limited storage capacity of the narrow unsaturated layer in bottomlands, reinforced by groundwater ridging, which is linked to the extent of the capillary fringe. However, the hysteretic loops were narrow, and, for wet years, the
storage value during the recession period occasionally exceeded the value in the recession period without modifying
the general direction of the hysteresis when looking at the
whole pattern (e.g. in 2003–2004, see Fig. 4a). When this
occurred at the time of Qmid , it led to a negative HI although
absolute values remained small (Fig. 5)
The hillslope groundwater responded later than the stream,
due to the deeper groundwater levels and higher unsaturated
storage capacity (Rouxel et al., 2011), both introducing a
time lag for the recharge and thus for the groundwater response. This led to negative values of the HI as groundwater
levels in recession periods were higher than in recharge periods for the same level of discharge (in particular at Qmid ).
The loops were also wider in the hillslope, leading to high
absolute values of the HI (Fig. 5).
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Table 4. Hydrological calibration criteria and evaluation signatures. The performance metrics include the Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency (ENS ),
the volume error (EV ) and the relative error (ER ). For all variables and signatures, except for Q, Qlow and GW, the long-term averages were
ENS,X = 1 −
(Xobs,i −Xsim,i )2
EV,X = 1 −
Xobs,i − n1
i=1:n Xobs,i
P|Xobs,i −Xsim,i |
i=1:n Xobs,i
ER,X = XobsX−Xsim
Performance metric
Time series of flow
Nash and Sutcliffe (1970)
Flow duration curve
Jothityangkoon et al. (2001)
Schoups et al. (2005)
Flow during low-flow period
Groundwater dynamicsa
Flow duration curve low-flow period
Flow duration curve high-flow period
Groundwater duration curvea
Peak distribution
Peak distribution low-flow period
Rising-limb density
Declining-limb density
Autocorrelation function of flowb
Lag-1 autocorrelation of high-flow period
Lag-1 autocorrelation of low-flow period
Runoff coefficientc
Freer et al. (2003)
Fenicia et al. (2008a)
Yilmaz et al. (2008)
Yilmaz et al. (2008)
Euser et al. (2013)
Euser et al. (2013)
Shamir et al. (2005)
Sawicz et al. (2011)
Montanari and Toth (2007)
Euser et al. (2013)
Euser et al. (2013)
Yadav et al. (2007)
Schoups et al. (2005)
Criss and Winston (2008)
a Averaged and normalized time series data of the five piezometer were compared to normalized fluctuations in model state variable S (see Table 1). b
Describing the spectral properties of a signal and thus the memory of the system, the observed and modelled autocorrelation functions with lags from 1 to
100 d where compared. c Note that in catchments without long-term storage changes and intercatchment groundwater flow, long-term average RC equals the
long-term average 1-EA (Table 1).
The intermediate behaviour of the midslope piezometer
(F4), exhibiting varying patterns throughout the years, reflects the fact that the riparian zone extends spatially towards
the hillslope and reaches a larger spatial extension during wet
Similar observations have been reported by other authors.
For example, anticlockwise hysteresis between groundwater
tables and discharge are observed by Gabrielli et al. (2012) in
the Maimai catchment, while studies on riparian groundwater
or river bank groundwater report clockwise hysteresis on the
storm event scale (Frei et al., 2010; Jung et al., 2004). Similar
patterns were also observed by Jung et al. (2004), who found
that in the inner floodplain and in river bank piezometers,
the hysteresis curve between the water table and river stage
exhibits a synchronous response, while in the hillslope hysteresis, curves are relatively open as the water table is higher
during the recession than during the rising limb.
Observations regarding hillslope: saturated and
unsaturated storages vs. flow
Figure 6 shows the 3-dimensional relationship between hillslope saturated storage (HSS), unsaturated storage (HUS) and
stream flow (Q) for the year 2010–2011. Four main periods
can be identified, similar to what was outlined in recent studies (e.g. Heidbuechel et al., 2012; Hrachowitz et al., 2013a):
three characterized the recharge period and the last one the
recession period. First, stream flow was close or equal to 0
and was almost exclusively sustained by drainage of the saturated storage, while the unsaturated zone exhibited a significant storage deficit and only minor fluctuations due to
transpiration and small summer rain events (dry period). As
steadier precipitation patterns set in, here typically around
November, the unsaturated-zone storage reached its maximal value relatively quickly, rapidly establishing connectivity with fast-responding flow pathways (wetting period). This
led to a relatively rapid increase in stream flow while the
saturated storage did not change much until the end of this
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Figure 4. Examples of annual hysteretic loops for saturated-zone storage vs. stream flow which are clockwise in the riparian zone (a, b) and
anticlockwise in the hillslope (c, d) for the wet year 2003–2004 (a, c) and the dry year 2007–2008 (b, d).
Figure 5. Annual hysteresis indexes (HI) computed for the
piezometers in the Kerrien catchment from 2002 to 2012. F5b
is located upslope, F4 midslope and F1b downslope in the riparian area. RRS(Q) is the hysteresis between stream flow and riparian saturated-zone storage (measured at F1b). HSS-F5b(Q), HSSF4(Q) and HSS(Q) are hystereses between stream flow and upslope (at F5b), midslope (at F4) and hillslope (average of F5b and
F4) saturated storages respectively. HUS(Q) is the hysteresis between stream flow and hillslope unsaturated storage (HUS) (computed from the average of normalized volumic moisture sensors in
profiles sB1 and sB2), and HUS(HSS) is that between the hillslope
unsaturated- and saturated-zone storage (average of F5b and F4).
period as incoming precipitation first had to fill the storage
deficit in the unsaturated zone before a significant increase
in percolation could occur. A further lag was introduced by
the time taken for water to percolate and eventually recharge
the relatively deep groundwater. As soon as conditions were
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
wet enough to allow for established percolation, the saturated
storage eventually also responded, increasing faster than the
stream flow (wet period), while unsaturated storage remained
full. During the wet period (or high-flow period), no pattern
appeared clearly because all storage elements were almost
full and the responses of all the compartments were more
directly linked to the short-term dynamics of rain events.
Finally during the recession period (drying period), unsaturated storage decreased comparatively quickly by drainage
and transpiration, while the saturated storage kept increasing
for a while by continued percolation from the unsaturated
zone before decreasing through groundwater drainage at a
relatively slow rate. A similar pattern was also observed for
2011–2012 (not shown).
The unsaturated-zone storage followed a clockwise hysteresis loop with the stream flow and with the saturated-zone
storage. The hysteresis indexes (Fig. 5, years 2010–2011 and
2011–2012) reflected these directions and showed that the
hysteresis loops were narrower for unsaturated storage than
for saturated storage, inducing smaller absolute values of the
hysteresis indexes due to the small size of the unsaturated
storage compartment compared to the saturated storage compartment.
There are three main hypotheses generally proposed to interpret storage–discharge hystereses in hydrology. The first one
is related to the increase in transmissivity with the groundwater level due to the frequently observed exponential decrease in hydraulic conductivity with depth. However, this
would lead to systematic clockwise hysteresis loops and canwww.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/19/105/2015/
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Figure 6. Evolution of stream flow (Q in mm d−1 ) and normalized hillslope unsaturated storage (HUS) and hillslope saturated storage (HSS)
for the water year 2010–2011 (October to September). The size of the dots increases with time. Unsaturated storage (HUS) is computed from
the moisture sensors in profiles sB1 and sB2; saturated storage (HSS) is represented using a normalized groundwater table level (computed
from two piezometers in the hillslope). (a) is the 3-dimensional plot and (b, c, d) are the respective 2-dimensional projections of (a) on the
three plans.
not explain the anticlockwise patterns observed between hillslope saturated storage and stream flow. The second hypothesis proposed by Spence et al., 2010 is that during the recharge
period, the groundwater storage not only increases locally (as
measured by the piezometric variations), but the spatial extension of connected storage also increases gradually, while
during the recession period, the storage decreases homogenously across the entire contribution area. This is likely for
riparian groundwater and could explain the clockwise hysteresis observed on this piezometer but cannot explain the
anticlockwise hysteresis observed in the hillslope groundwater. The third hypothesis is that dominant hydrological processes are different between recharge and recession periods.
For instance, Jung et al. (2004) interpret their clockwise hysteresis in peatlands groundwater as the results of a stepwise
filling process during the rising flows (fill and spill mechanism) opposed to a more gradual drainage of the groundwater
during the recession combined with the first hypothesis result, similar to what was found by Hrachowitz et al. (2013a).
This hypothesis of different hydrological pathways allows an
adequate interpretation of the opposite directions of the observed hystereses. The recharge period is characterized by a
quick filling of the unsaturated and saturated storages in the
riparian zone, which is always close to saturation, while the
saturated storage on the hillslope is not yet filling up (wetting period). Thus, the wetting period is characterized by an
increase in stream flow, here mainly generated in the riparian
zone, and eventual quick flows in the hillslope, while the hillwww.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/19/105/2015/
slope unsaturated zone reaches the storage capacity volume.
At the beginning of the wet period, hillslope saturated storage
fills and starts to contribute to the stream, along with riparian
and fast flows. During the recession period (drying period),
the hillslope saturated zone is the only compartment which
continues to sustain stream flow. If this hypothesis is correct,
there are three contributions to stream flow in the wet period,
while, during the recession period, hillslope groundwater remains the only contributor to stream flow (cf. Hrachowitz et
al., 2013a, see Fig. 7). This can explain the difference between storage values in recharge and recession periods. Finally, the hysteretic hydrological signature is not only related
to the amount of stored water in the catchment but rather to
where it is stored.
These results are consistent with previous studies: the distinction between riparian groundwater and hillslope groundwater components has also been identified in similar catchments (by Molénat et al. (2008) based on nitrate concentration analysis and by Aubert et al. (2013a) based on a range
of solutes) and at other site (by Haught and van Meerveld
(2011)) using such Q–S relationships and lag time analysis.
Sensitivity of the HI to initial conditions
Sensitivity to antecedent soil moisture conditions is often
cited as an explanation for observed storage–discharge hysteresis and its variability between years. The initial levels of
each store will obviously influence the time required to fill
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Figure 7. Conceptual scheme of successive mechanisms explaining the annual hysteresis between storages and stream flows. HUS: hillslope
unsaturated storage; HSS: hillslope saturated storage; RUS: riparian unsaturated storage; RSS: riparian saturated storage; Q: stream flow.
Bold characters indicate compartments with varying storage; grey arrows indicate whether the compartment is filling or emptying; black
arrows indicate the water flow paths.
Figure 8. Year-to-year variations, for the 10 monitoring years, of the hysteresis indexes: (a) HSS-F5b(Q) and HSS-F4(Q) (HI) versus the
initial groundwater table level depth in the corresponding hillslope piezometer (F5b or F4) and (b) HSS-F1b(Q) versus the initial groundwater
table level depth in the piezometer in the riparian area (F1b).
them and consequently the duration of the successive periods identified in the whole recharge period. As only 2 years
of data were available, it was not possible to define a relationship between the initial average soil moisture and the magnitude of the hysteresis indexes. However, the magnitude of the
HI was lower for high initial values of average unsaturatedzone storage for both the saturated and unsaturated zones in
2011–2012 (Table 5). The HI for the midslope saturated zone
(F4b) seemed to be more sensitive to these initial moisture
conditions than the HI for the upslope saturated zone and
unsaturated zone. Similarly, the width of the loop (absolute
value of the HI) was not very sensitive to initial groundwater
levels in the hillslope: although the larger absolute values of
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
the HI were observed for the lower initial water table levels,
no clear correlation was observed (Fig. 8).
Sensitivity of the HI to annual rainfall
For the saturated zone, the observed values of the HI were
negatively correlated with the total annual rainfall for both
the hillslope and the riparian zone, with a more negative
slope for the hillslope (Fig. 9). Wet years (i.e. large values
of annual rainfall) are generally associated with large values of annual maximal and midpoint stream flows and also
with large values of groundwater table level, leading to larger
saturated-storage values during the recession period, while
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Table 5. Hysteresis indexes (HIs) and initial hillslope unsaturated-storage values (HUS) at the beginning of the water year.
Hysteresis index (HI)
Initial HUS
Figure 9. Variations of observed (data) and simulated (M1 to M4) hysteresis index versus annual rainfall for the 10 monitored water years
for (a) hillslope saturated storage versus discharge HSS(Q) and (b) riparian saturated storage vs. discharge RSS(Q). Solid lines indicate the
linear regressions.
the storage values during the recharge period do not change
much from year to year. Thus, larger storage values at the
time of midpoint discharge in the recession period led to
smaller values of the HI (i.e larger absolute values for the
hillslope, where hystereses are anticlockwise, and smaller
absolute value of the HI for the riparian zone, where hystereses are clockwise). In the riparian zone, when rainfall and
maximal drainage reached a very high value, it could lead to
a saturated-storage value at the time of midpoint discharge in
the recession period that was larger than the corresponding
value during the recharge period, explaining the inversion of
the sign of the HI for RSS(Q) in very wet years.
Model assessment based on their ability to
reproduce the observed hysteresis
Hysteresis simulations
For all years, all models (M1–M4) exhibited a hysteretic
relationship between stream flow and storage, as shown in
Fig. 10 for the years 2003–2004 and 2007–2008, pertaining
to the calibration and validation periods respectively. This
means that all tested models introduced a lag time between
catchment stores and the stream dynamics. Fig. 11a presents
the observed and modelled average and standard deviation of
the annual hysteresis indexes, for hillslope saturated storage
vs. discharge HSS(Q), hillslope unsaturated storage vs. discharge HUS(Q), hillslope unsaturated storage vs. hillslope
saturated storage HUS(HSS) and riparian saturated storage
vs. discharge RSS(Q). As riparian saturated storage (RSS) is
not modelled in M1 and M2, simulated RSS(Q) was available
only for M3 and M4.
For M1, the shape of the simulated hysteresis showed an
overestimation of hillslope saturated storage (HSS) and of
flow during dry years (e.g. the year 2007–2008 shown in
Fig. 10). This was expected as we have seen that the model
was unable to reproduce groundwater dynamics and the low
signatures during the validation period (Fig. 3 and supplementary material). Simulated HI values were close to the observed ones for HSS(Q) (Fig. 11a). The simulated hysteresis
indexes were small and negative for HUS(Q), while the observed values were large and positive. Simulated HI values
for HUS(HSS) were also overestimated. These results show
that, in model M1, the overestimation of the hillslope saturated storage was partially compensated by the underestimation of the hillslope unsaturated storage. This reveals the
poor consistency of the model and explains why it was able
to reach good performance in the calibration period but not
in the validation period (Fig. 3).
For the model M2, the shape of the hysteresis loops
showed a considerable underestimation of HSS and a large
underestimation of stream flow in wet years (Fig. 10). Compared to M1, although the introduction of deep losses in
M2 led to higher validation performances and better simulation of hydrological signatures (Fig. 3), the simulated HIs
(Fig. 11a) worsened, suggesting a poorer model consistency
with respect to internal hydrologic processes.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Figure 10. Observed and simulated annual hysteresis between stream flow (Q) and (a, b) saturated storage in the hillslope HSS (for observed
hysteresis, HSS is the average of F5b and F4) and (c, d) saturated storage in the riparian area RSS (for simulated hysteresis, only M3 and M4
represent the riparian area), for the water years (a, c) 2003–2004 (wet year, calibration period) and (b, d) 2007–2008 (dry year, validation
For both models M3 and M4, the introduction of a riparian compartment improved the simulated hysteretic loops,
due to a better simulation of stream flow in wet years, but
HSS was still largely underestimated (Fig. 10). The mean
HI values for HSS(Q) were close to the observed one, but
the range of variation was smaller, indicating a reduced sensitivity to climate (Fig. 9). The mean values for HUS(Q)
were clearly improved compared to M1 and M2 as the direction of the loop was clockwise as for the observations,
although the values were still underestimated. The mean HI
values for HUS(HSS) were also greatly improved. The shape
of the simulated hysteresis loops between riparian saturated
storage (RSS) and stream flow (Q) showed a large underestimation of RSS, especially during the recession period
(Fig. 10c, d). This led to simulated HIs for RSS(Q) which
are positive, like the observed ones, but also largely overestimated (Fig. 11a). Overall, these results suggest that for models including a riparian component, the underestimation of
the hysteresis between HUS and Q was compensated for by
an overestimation of the hysteresis between RSS and Q. This
highlights that, despite a significant improvement in performances and improved hydrological signature reproduction,
these models still involve a certain degree of inconsistency
with respect to internal processes. However, M4 provided
the most balanced performance considering hysteretic signatures between all storage components and strongly underlines the limitations of overly simplistic model architectures
(e.g. M1) and the need for more complete representations
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
of process heterogeneity. The hysteresis index sensitivity to
parameter uncertainty increases with the number of parameters from M1 to M2 and then stays in the same range from
M2 to M4 (Fig. 11b). This analysis confirms the importance
of considering the hysteresis indexes both between saturated
and unsaturated storage (HSS and HUS) to avoid accepting
a wrong model. For example, considering only the performance regarding the HSS(Q) relationship could lead one to
accept model M1, while its performance on HUS is lower
and it is not able to reproduce the Riparian compartment hysteresis. For readability purposes, Fig. 11b only illustrates this
sensitivity for the different HIs in the year of 2011–2012 but
similar behaviour is observed every year. It shows that best
behavioural parameter sets (bbp) lead to modelled HI values
closer to the observed values than average modelled HI values. Using an additional calibration criterion related to the
hysteresis could reduce the sensitivity of the HI to parameter
uncertainty and lead to a narrow range of feasible parameter
Sensitivity of modelled hysteresis indexes to
annual rainfall
All models were able to represent the decrease in the hysteresis indexes with annual rainfall on the hillslope, the slope
of the correlation getting closer to the observed one from M1
to M4 (Fig. 9). The introduction of deep-groundwater losses
(M2) led to smaller saturated storage during recharge periods
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
lated to an improper conceptualization of the riparian-zone
functioning, which is never connected to the hillslope reservoir in the tested models. In reality, during high-flow periods,
the observed hydraulic gradient increased along the hillslope,
inducing a connection between riparian and hillslope reservoirs which are disconnected during low-flow periods.
Figure 11. (a) Mean annual hysteresis indexes observed and simulated with the four models M1 to M4 for hillslope saturated storage
vs. discharge HSS(Q), hillslope unsaturated storage vs. discharge
HUS(Q), hillslope unsaturated storage vs. hillslope saturated storage HUS(HSS) and riparian saturated storage vs. discharge RSS(Q).
RSS is only simulated in models M3 and M4. Error bars show the
standard deviation for the 10 years for HSS(Q) and RSS(Q) and
the values for the 2 available years for HUS(Q) and HUS(HSS).
(b) Sensitivity of hysteresis index values to parameter uncertainty
for the year 2011–2012. Mx bbp indicates the value for best behavioural parameter sets; the circles, triangles, squares and diamonds indicate the mean HI value for the all the behavioural parameter sets, and the corresponding bars indicate its range of variation.
and increased the difference between saturated storage during recharge and recession periods at the time of midpoint
discharge. However, as all models tended to overestimate low
stream flow values, the slopes of the correlations between annual rainfall and the simulated HI were smaller than for the
observed one.
In the riparian zone, the modelled trends were the inverse
of the observed one. The modelled recessions were always
very sharp (see Hrachowitz et al., 2014), and the simulated riparian storage dried up every year, explaining why saturated
storage at the time of midpoint discharge during the recession
periods was much greater than during the recharge periods.
This led to a general overestimation of HI values, which were
even stronger for wet years. This overestimation may be rewww.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/19/105/2015/
Value of such internal signatures for model
The use of hydrological hysteretic signatures in model
assessments led to conclusions that were consistent with
the classical hydrological signatures used in Hrachowitz et
al. (2014). However, model M2 was less able to reproduce
the different hysteretic signatures, whereas it led to a real improvement regarding to the classical signatures in low flows.
Considering only the distance between observed and simulated hysteresis indexes on hillslope saturated storage and
stream flow would lead one to select model M1. This highlights the fact that using saturated-storage dynamics alone
can be deceptive for understanding the system response behaviour and that it is thus crucial to also consider the hysteretic signatures of unsaturated and riparian zones in a combined approach to develop a more robust understanding of
the system. Here, hysteretic signatures of the unsaturated and
riparian zones provided valuable additional assessment metrics regarding the performance of models M3 and M4 to represent the riparian zone. It was possible to identify when the
model failed to represent processes, which processes were
mostly compensating for missing ones and therefore why the
model may provide some good performance for the wrong
reasons. In this regard, the hysteresis index proved to be a
useful proxy of hystereses themselves as it exhibited contrasted patterns sensitive to climate and localization within
the catchment.
Perspectives: toward an integrated
hydrological-signature-based modelling?
A general issue in model calibration is that, because of the
overparameterization of hydrological models and because
the objective functions generally only integrate one variable,
such as the stream flow, automatic calibration techniques
may lead to parameter sets which compensate for internal
model errors. These parameter sets are mathematically correct but wrong from a hydrological point of view. The subsequent model should then be considered nonbehavioural
(Beven, 2006). For instance, if storage properties are not
taken into account well by the model, this is likely to lead to
a wrong simulation of storage dynamics in response to precipitation. Thus, the parameterization using traditional objective functions can lead to compensation of these errors in
order to simulate a discharge value close to the observed one
while the storage is wrong. In such a case, a model able to
represent the internal catchment behaviour will generate a
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
wrong discharge value which is, however, consistent with the
storage value and will be rejected in traditional calibration
procedures. To handle this issue and in order to select behavioural models, one can use multiple objective functions
(Gupta et al., 1998; Seibert and McDonnell, 2002; Freer et
al., 2003), including a range of hydrological signatures to be
reproduced or additional realism constraints (Kavetski and
Fenicia, 2011; Yadav et al., 2007; Yilmaz et al., 2008; Euser
et al., 2013; Gharari et al., 2013; Hrachowitz et al., 2014).
We argue that, rather than increasing the number of constraints or objective functions which have to be satisfied, an
alternative could be to use some objective functions based
on a combination of different variables, such as stream flow
and the groundwater level, soil moisture or stream concentrations. Among the possible combination of variables, objective functions based on the relative dynamics of storage in
different spatial locations, such as riparian versus hillslope,
might provide new insights into the catchment-internal processes. We suggest that such combined objective functions
would be more constraining for model selection. Therefore,
the present study is a first step which aims at highlighting the
still underexploited potential of hydrological hysteresis. The
next step would be to quantify these relationships through
functions or several indexes usable in calibration criteria,
such as the hysteresis index proposed in this study. Moreover,
such criteria could be used in classification studies. Indeed,
some studies in the literature present storage–discharge relationships for different catchments that show patterns that are
similar or dissimilar to the ones we observed in the Kerrien
catchment (Ali et al., 2011; Gabrielli et al., 2012). This signature may help to classify catchments in terms of dominant
processes driving their behaviour.
A remaining difficulty with integrating storage into calibration or evaluation procedure in hydrological modelling is
how to measure this storage. McNamara et al. (2011) and
Tetzlaff et al. (2011) proposed using all available data from
groundwater level monitoring, soil moisture records, water
budget, modelling results and so on to estimate the storage in
catchments. In this study, we used quite a dense network of
piezometers and soil moisture measurements relative to the
small size of the catchment. Promising ways to estimate spatial quantification of storage in catchments include remote
sensing of soil moisture (Sreelash et al., 2013; Vereecken et
al., 2008), gravimetric techniques (Creutzfeldt et al., 2012),
geodesy and geophysical methods. The interest in such techniques would be to provide a spatially integrated vision of
the catchment water content.
As for the different hydrological variables, the combination of hydrological and chemical variables appears relevant to investigating the hydrochemical behaviour of catchments. Hysteresis patterns between concentration and discharge have been largely documented for storm event characterization (Evans and Davies, 1998; Evans et al., 1999;
Taghavi et al., 2011). Some studies also report similar patterns on the annual scale (e.g. Aubert et al., 2013b). Such
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
hysteretic relationships have been observed also between water and chemistry in groundwater (Rouxel et al., 2011; Hrachowitz et al., 2013a), emphasizing a disconnection between
water and solute dynamics that simple diffusion or partial
mixing processes cannot explain. Stream water chemistry
also exhibits particular seasonal cycles with different phasing
and with discharge depending on the solutes (Aubert et al.,
2013b). This provides extra information on the water pathways within the catchment. These relationships also appear
to be powerful in constraining hydrochemical modelling.
A method to characterize and partially quantify the relationship between storages in a headwater catchment and stream
flow throughout a year has been proposed. It allowed us to
then assess the ability of a range of conceptual lumped models to reproduce this catchment-internal signature. Catchment storage has been approximated using a network of
piezometric data and several unsaturated-zone moisture profiles to consider the storage in the saturated as well as in the
unsaturated zones.
The observations showed that storage–discharge relationships in catchments can be hysteretic, highlighting a successive activation of different hydrological components during the recharge period, while the recession exhibits a fast
decrease in unsaturated and riparian storage and a slow
decrease in hillslope saturated storage which sustains the
stream flow. Four periods have been identified in the hydrological year: (1) first, at the end of the dry period, rainfall
starts to refill unsaturated storage; (2) in the wetting period,
riparian unsaturated storage is filled and the saturated storage starts to supply the stream while hillslope unsaturated
storage is still being replenished; (3) during the wet period,
unsaturated storage in the hillslope is also filled and the saturated hillslope storage also feeds the stream. (4) Finally when
rainfall declines, flow from the riparian groundwater recedes
and, during the recession period, the stream discharge is sustained only by hillslope groundwater. Stream discharge and
riparian and hillslope saturated storages exhibited different
patterns of hysteresis, with opposite directions of the hysteretic loops.
The tested models were characterized by an increasing degree of complexity and also an increasing consistency, as
shown in a previous study using classical hydrologic signatures. In this study, we showed that, if all of the models simulated a hysteretic relationship between storage and discharge,
their ability to reproduce the hysteresis index also increased
with model complexity. In addition, we suggest that, if classical hydrological signatures help to assess model consistency,
the hysteretic signatures also help to identify quickly when
and why the models give “right answers for the wrong reasons” and can be used as a descriptor of the internal catchment functioning.
O. Fovet et al.: Hydrological hysteresis
Acknowledgements. The investigations benefited from the support
of INRA and CNRS for the Research Observatory ORE AgrHys,
and from Allenvi for the SOERE RBV. Data are available at
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