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Scientific Journal of Earth Science
June 2014, Volume 4, Issue 2, PP.85-92
Simulation of Runoff in Karst-influenced
Lianjiang Watershed Using the SWAT Model
Xizhi Wang, Zhaoxiong Liang, J un Wang
Department of Resource and Environment, Foshan University, Foshan, China
The SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool) is a river basin, or watershed, scale model developed to predict the impact of land
management practices on water, sediment, and agricultural chemical yields in large, complex watersheds with varying soils, land
use, and management conditions over long periods of time. SWAT model was found to be appropriate in Karst watersheds due to
its capability to represent almost all of the hydrological processes, its user-friendliness, and its ability to generate most of the
parameters from available data. Based on the runoff daily observed data of Lianjiang watershed, which measured at Gaodao,
Fenghuangshan and Huangjingtang gauging station from 2001 to 2005, the calibration and Sensitivity analysis of the model were
carried out. The calibrated model was validated for three gauging stations for a period of 5 years (2006 - 2010).The simulated
monthly stream flow has Nash Sutcliffe efficiency value of 0.97, 0.89 and 0.70 for the calibration period for the Gaodao,
Fenghuangshan and Huangjingtang stations, respectively. The model was successful in simulating streamflow during validation
period as indicated by Nash Sutcliffe efficiency value of 0.90, 0.69 and 0.69 and R
value of 0.94, 0.93 and 0.92 for Gaodao,
Fenghuangshan and Huangjingtang stations. The paper is also to provide the frontier information of Karst-influenced hydrological
processes based on SWAT in order to obtain more attention of researchers in Karst hydrology field, and to make more application
of the case study in the future.
Keywords: Runoff Simulation; SWAT Model; Karst region; Liangjiang Watershed
Understanding watershed hydrology is critical, as it is often a primary driving force for nutrient cycling and loading
dynamics and subsequent downstream water quality impacts as a result of rapid urbanization and other land use
changes (Amatya, et al, 2011). According to the Karst Water Institute (2009), approximately 25% of the world’s
population either resides on or obtains water from aquifers in karst regions. Modeling hydrological processes on the
watershed scale can provide a better indicating of the interactions between surface and ground water and how water
quality and quantity are affected by human activities to protect water resources and public health, especially in
karst-influenced watershed. A variety of karst models have been developed and applied to karst formation discharge
(Nikolaidis, et al, 2013).
Semi-distributed watershed model such as SWAT has been used in the past to simulate the hydrologic response of
karstic formations (Spruill et al, 2000). Although the SWAT model has been widely and successfully tested for
various geographical regions, but not provided satisfactory estimates of runoff in karst watersheds (Ghanbarpour et
al, 2010). Other efforts (Spruill et al, 2000; Coffey et al, 2004; Afinowicz et al, 2005; Benham et al, 2006) are
reported by Gassman et al (2007) and show the difficulty of using that model to represent the baseflow of karst-fed
streams. Recently, Baffaut and Benson (2009) modified the SWAT 2005 code to simulate faster aquifer recharge in a
Missouri karstic watershed (SWAT-B&B) by modifying subroutines for deep groundwater recharge and maximizing
the hydraulic conductivity for sink holes simulated as ponds and losing streams and tributaries. Yachtao (2009)
further modified the work of SWAT-B&B in SWAT-Karst to represent karst environments at the hydrologic response
unit (HRU) scale in the Opequon Creek watershed.
In practical studies, SWAT need to construct an appropriate model database depending on the scale of watershed and

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the level of accuracy required, especially soil data (Li R K et al, 2011), and also need to consider the principle of the
model and the physical meanings of some key parameters to explain the simulation result (Ye, X C et al, 2009). The
researches of Karst watershed based on SWAT should be enhanced to readjust the model databases of Karst features.
For example, in Karst regions, the soil physical attributes of new database need to be established by rocky
desertification processes.
The objective of this research was to study the runoff in following ways. Firstly, three hydrological stations were
simulated runoff by calibration and validation of values in Lianjiang River. Secondly, the different soil database was
used to simulate runoff values of SWAT model. Thirdly, the frontier information of Karst-influenced hydrological
processes is provided of using SWAT model in the karst watershed.
SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool, Arnold et al, 1998) is semi-distributed, process-oriented model for
simulating water, nutrient and pesticide transport. It is used for multi-scale catchments, the basic units are called
Hydrological Response Units (HRU) based on different land use, soil and slope. Without gonging into too much
detail as it was generally introduced all-round in previous studies, it has been applied worldwide for most climate
zones and many regions. More detailed information on the model is described in Amatya et al. (2011), Yachtao
(2009), Baffaut and Benson (2009), Gassman et al. (2007) and Arnold et al. (1998) and the references therein.
3.1 Study Area
Liangjiang watershed is located in the North Guangdong province in China, lies between 112°10´- 113°18´E
longitude and 24°09´- 25°07´N latitude (Fig. 1). It has a drainage area of 10061 km
and a length of 275 km, the
largest tributary of the Beijiang River in the Zhujiang drainage system (Zhou, 2005). The climate condition is
primarily subtropical monsoon region with the average annual precipitation and temperature of 1700 mm and
19-20 ℃, respectively. It is a landscape dominated by Karst terrain, and surface and ground water resources are
closely related in some sub-watershed. Karst regions appear about 40 percent of the watershed area. Three
hydrologic stations exist in the watershed to characterize hydrological process: Gaodao (9016 km
) of Liangjiang
River, Fenghuangshan (1548 km
) of Xingzi River and Huangjingtang (645 km
) of Tongguansgui River.

3.2 Data Description
The ArcGIS 9.3.1 was used for the analyses satellite data, digitization of contours, construction of Digital Elevation

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Model (DEM), automatic extraction of watershed parameters and interpretation of results. The extracted watershed
information was used to generate the input parameters of ArcSWAT 2009.93.6. Input for SWAT model includes
topography, land use, soil, meteorological data and observed discharge over the watershed.
DEM data was extracted from ASTER Global Digital Elevation Model (ASTER GDEM) of METI/NASA, with a
spatial resolution of 30 m.
Land use map was obtained from TM data (path no. 122-123 and row no. 43 2006a) and used the supervised method
of classification to classify the land uses. The dominant land uses in Liangjiang watershed are forest (37.09%), shrub
land (37.26%), grassland (7.93%), agricultural land (11.68%), construction land (5.14%) and water area (0.90%).
Soil map was taken from the national soil map of the scale 1:1000000 of Guangdong Institute of Geo-environment and
Soil Sciences. In the research watershed, there are 17 types of soil including Terra rossa (HSSHT), Yellow earths
(HGYHR), Red earths (SYYHRA), Hydromorphic paddy soils (ZYSDT), Lateritic red earths (CHHR), Phospho-calcic
soils (GZSZT), Nutral purplish soils, Yellow red earths (ZXZST), Percogenic paddy soils (SYSDT), et al.
For weather data, based on distribution characteristics, duration and data quality of meteorological monitoring in
Lianjiang watershed and its surrounding areas, four gages as Lianzhou, Shaoguan, Guangling and Fogang were used.
The data was obtained from China Meteorological Data Sharing Service System.
Discharge data was prepared at three monitoring stations named Gaodao, Fenghuangshan and Huangjingtang. The
data was furnished by Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS.

(a) (b)


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3.3 Model Performance Evaluation
The SWAT model was evaluated using observed discharge data. The Nash- Sutcliffe efficiency (NSE) (Moriasi et al,
2007) is a common indicator used to quantify how daily simulated values fit the measured values. The NSE is
computed as the ratio of residual variance to measured data variance. According to Moriasi et al (2007), model
simulation is considered to be an acceptable value if NSE > 0.5, and a good value if NSE > 0.7. The coefficient of
determination (R
) is calculated as between measured and simulated values that correspond to a same frequency of
occurrence (Santhi et al, 2001), and value ranges from 0 – 1, an acceptable value if R
> 0.5. It is utilized to evaluate
how the range and distribution of the simulated values match the range and distribution of measured values.
The Lianjiang watershed was delineated into 112 sub-watersheds using as criterion the elemental catchment of 5000
ha and 843 hydrologic response units (HRUS).
4.1 Sensitivity Analysis
Sensitivity analysis was performed to evaluate the effect of parameters on the performance of the SWAT model in
simulating runoff. On the basis of sensitivity analysis performed, parameters with the highest relative sensitivity to
simulated runoff were soil evaporation compensation factor (ESCO), curve number (CN), threshold depth of shallow
aquifer water required for return flow (Gwqmn), and available water capacity of soil layer (SOL_AWC) et al, as
shown in Table1. It is interesting to note that sensitive parameters are different for different catchments. These
parameters were modified during the model calibration. After sensitivity analysis, both calibration and validation
were done at both monthly and yearly time steps.
Order Gaodao Fenghuangshan Huangjingtang
1 Esco Esco Esco
2 Gwqmn Gwqmn Gwqmn
3 CN Canmx CN
4 Sol_Z CN Canmx
5 Sol_Awc Sol_Z Sol_Awc
6 Slope Sol_Awc Sol_Z
7 Sol_K Sol_K Sol_K
8 Ch_K2 Slope Ch_K2
9 Canmx Blai Slope
10 Gw_Revap Gw_Revap Gw_Revap
4.2 Calibration and Validation
Three separate models were prepared for Lianjiang watershed and two sub-watersheds. The model was manually
calibrated for flow based on the 2001-2005 period and validated based on the years 2006-2010. The results of
calibration and validation are discussed below.
In this study, calibration efforts focused on improving model performance at three gauging stations. Flow calibration
was focused on monthly and yearly simulations. The capability of a hydrological model to adequately simulate
stream flow process typically depends on the accurate calibration of parameters. A list of the parameters, their range
of values and the final parameter values achieved after the calibration of the model are shown in Table 2.
Parameters Ranges
Values used
Gaodao Fenghuangshan Huangjingtang
Esco 0-1 0 0.5 0.5
Gwqmn 0-5000 0 1000 1000
Canmx 0-100 0 0 0
Sol_Awc 0-1 0.11 0.09 0.25
Sol_Z 0-3500 100 160 60
Sol_K 0-2000 20 93 119
Gw_Revap 0.02-0.2 0.02 0.02 0.02

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Figure 3 compares graphically observed and simulated monthly runoff values at Gaodao, Fenghuangshan and
Huangjingtang stations for the calibration and validation periods. It was observed a fairly good match between
observed and simulated runoff at Gaodao, the better of Fenghuangshan and Huangjingtang.



The results of acceptable tests performed agreement between observed and simulated the monthly and yearly runoff
values are presented in Table 3. The Ens values of 0.97, 0.89 and 0.70, R
values of 0.92, 0.92 and 0.91 of yearly
runoff at Gaodao, Fnghuangshan and Huangjingtang stations of calibration period indicated fit observed and
simulated values, and the model performed better at Gaodao station than at Fenghuangshan and Huangjingtang
stations. Nash-Suctcliffe simulation efficiency of 0.90, 0.69 and 0.69 at three stations of validation period indicated

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that there was a better agreement between the observed and simulated yearly runoff. Great values (0.94, 0.93 and
0.92) of R
indicated a good agreement of yearly runoff.
Gaodao Fenghuangshan Huangjingtang
Ens R
Ens R
Ens R
monthly yearly monthly yearly monthly yearly monthly yearly monthly yearly monthly yearly
Calibration (2001-2005) 0.94 0.97 0.94 0.92 0.83 0.89 0.83 0.92 0.76 0.70 0.79 0.91
Validation (2007-2010) 0.93 0.90 0.94 0.94 0.75 0.69 0.79 0.93 0.77 0.69 0.78 0.92
Overall, simulation of monthly and yearly runoff by SWAT model during the calibration and validation period was
found to be satisfactory of the whole Liangjiang watershed, and modified SWAT model for further analysis of small
4.3 Model by Modified Karst- influenced Soil Database
Karstic regions are about 40% of the total area in the Liangiang watershed, and 30.91% of the Xingzi River, 37.53%
of the Tongguanshui River. Changes in soil hydraulic properties due to rocky desertification processes can be
expected to happen but have not been frequently studied in the past. Hence, a strategy is required to estimate changes
in soil hydraulic properties from available information, such as soil layer properties et al. In non-karstic regions, the
SWAT model is to be used generally condition.
In Karstic regions, the area of undiscoverable rocky desertification (covered karst) and rocky desertification were
divided and superimposed on the soil map. Therefore, developing Karst-influenced soil database for Lianjiang
watershed required the creation of a new soil map that covered the entire Karstic area. The Karstic thin soil layer,
located at a depth no more than 50 cm, reduces the area soil’s permeability and increase the potential for surface and
lateral flow. The average soil layer is the depth no more than 25 cm of rocky desertification regions, and a depth of
25 to 50 cm of undiscoverable rocky desertification regions. The new of soil types were set by suffixed -Q of the
undiscoverable rocky desertification areas, and suffixed K of the rocky desertification areas. In the Karst-influenced
soil database, there are 34 types of soil including HSSHTQ, SYYHRAQ, ZYSDTQ, SHYHRQ, HSSSTK, HSSLTQ,
Using the different soil database, the performance of observed and simulated monthly and yearly runoff values at
Gaodao, Fenghuangshan and Huangjingtang stations for the before calibration and no calibration of validation are
shown in table 4. With similar and no significant differences of the simulated results of the application of these two
soil databases, it is necessary to propose a new database or parameters to assess influence of the soil hydrological
process in Karst regions as the accuracy of database has to be upgraded.

General model performance
Before Calibration Validation of no Calibration
Ens R
Ens R

monthly yearly monthly yearly monthly yearly monthly yearly
Gaodao 0.94 0.96 0.94 0.98 0.93 0.90 0.94 0.94
Fenghuangshan 0.84 0.24 0.93 0.98 0.89 0.29 0.92 0.80
Huangjingtang 0.88 0.74 0.90 0.75 0.89 0.40 0.91 0.89

Model performance of Karst-influenced soil database
Before Calibration Validation of no Calibration
Ens R
Ens R

monthly yearly monthly yearly monthly yearly monthly yearly
Gaodao 0.95 0.96 0.95 0.98 0.93 0.89 0.94 0.94
Fenghuangshan 0.84 0.29 0.91 0.98 0.88 0.18 0.91 0.80
Huangjingtang 0.88 0.75 0.90 0.75 0.89 0.44 0.91 0.88
4.4 SWAT Application Based on Karst- influenced Feature
The watershed has some karst features, with depressions, sinkhole, losing stream tributaries, springs, and caves.

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Therefore, developing a Karst-influenced SWAT model for the Liangjiang basin required the creation of a new
landuse and soil map, and new parameters of Karstic feature that covered the entire catchment area.
In the further study, the researches of small Karst watershed based on SWAT model should be enhanced from three
aspects, (1) Different of land cover categories database were identified in the Karst watershed. In non-karst regions,
there is a usual land cover categories database. In Karst regions, there is a Karst-influenced 4 land cover categories
database such as undiscoverable rocky desertification, slight rocky desertification, moderate rocky desertification
and severe rocky desertification. (2) In Karst regions, the soil physical attributes of new database is established by
rocky desertification processes. (3) A new approach for spatial discretization of Karst hydrologic response units
(KHRU) is proposed and applied to the Karst watersheds. Parameters used in SWAT should be modify and correct in
Karst regions such as Sink, Delay, Alpha, Hydraulic conductivity, et al and try to setup new parameters of improved
Karst-influenced SWAT model.
SWAT, a widely used watershed-scale distributed hydrologic model, was applied to test its ability to predict runoff of
a karst-influenced watershed at Lianjiang River of Guangdong province in China. Calibration and validation results
of the model show the simulated monthly and yearly runoff were in reasonable agreement with observed values. It
showed that the SWAT model could be used successfully to accurately simulated runoff in the Lianjiang watershed,
the performed obviously better at Gaodao station than at Fenghuangshan and Huangjingtang stations. This indicates
that the SWAT model was simulated at the large watershed better than at the location draining sub-watersheds.
However, despite the karst-influenced soil database, SWAT was only slightly accurately capturing the monthly and
yearly runoff at Gaodao, Fenghuangshan and Huangjingtang stations. As for the future trend of runoff in the
Lianjiang watershed, especially small sub-watershed of the influence by karst features, it is being constructed
Karst-influenced SWAT databases, and the related results will be given in the forthcoming paper under preparation.
The research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (NO. 31070426)
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Wang xizhi (PhD, Professor) was born on October 04, 1971, in Lanzhou, China.