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The sensitivity of landscape evolution models to spatial and temporal rainfall resolution

Coulthard, Tom J.; Skinner, Christopher J.


Christopher J. Skinner


© Author(s) 2016. Climate is one of the main drivers for landscape evolution models (LEMs), yet its representation is often basic with values averaged over long time periods and frequently lumped to the same value for the whole basin. Clearly, this hides the heterogeneity of precipitation - but what impact does this averaging have on erosion and deposition, topography, and the final shape of LEM landscapes? This paper presents results from the first systematic investigation into how the spatial and temporal resolution of precipitation affects LEM simulations of sediment yields and patterns of erosion and deposition. This is carried out by assessing the sensitivity of the CAESAR-Lisflood LEM to different spatial and temporal precipitation resolutions - as well as how this interacts with different-size drainage basins over short and long timescales. A range of simulations were carried out, varying rainfall from 0.25 h × 5 km to 24 h × Lump resolution over three different-sized basins for 30-year durations. Results showed that there was a sensitivity to temporal and spatial resolution, with the finest leading to & gt; 100 % increases in basin sediment yields. To look at how these interactions manifested over longer timescales, several simulations were carried out to model a 1000-year period. These showed a systematic bias towards greater erosion in uplands and deposition in valley floors with the finest spatial- and temporal-resolution data. Further tests showed that this effect was due solely to the data resolution, not orographic factors. Additional research indicated that these differences in sediment yield could be accounted for by adding a compensation factor to the model sediment transport law. However, this resulted in notable differences in the topographies generated, especially in third-order and higher streams. The implications of these findings are that uncalibrated past and present LEMs using lumped and time-averaged climate inputs may be under-predicting basin sediment yields as well as introducing spatial biases through under-predicting erosion in first-order streams but over-predicting erosion in second- and third-order streams and valley floor areas. Calibrated LEMs may give correct sediment yields, but patterns of erosion and deposition will be different and the calibration may not be correct for changing climates. This may have significant impacts on the modelled basin profile and shape from long-timescale simulations.


Coulthard, T. J., & Skinner, C. J. (2016). The sensitivity of landscape evolution models to spatial and temporal rainfall resolution. Earth surface dynamics European Geosciences Union, 4(3), 757-771.

Acceptance Date Aug 28, 2016
Online Publication Date Sep 30, 2016
Publication Date Sep 30, 2016
Deposit Date Oct 7, 2016
Publicly Available Date Oct 7, 2016
Journal Earth surface dynamics
Print ISSN 2196-6311
Electronic ISSN 2196-632X
Publisher European Geosciences Union
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 3
Pages 757-771
Keywords Landscape evolution models; Rainfall
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Copy of article first published in: Earth surface dynamics, 2016, v.4, issue 3


Article.pdf (7.3 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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