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Application of a SWAT model for estimating runoff

and sediment in two mountainous basins in
central Iran



ABBASPOUR (2008) Application of a SWAT model for estimating runoff and sediment in two
mountainous basins in central Iran, Hydrological Sciences Journal, 53:5, 977-988, DOI: 10.1623/

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Hydrological SciencesJournaldes Sciences Hydrologiques, 53(5) October 2008 977
Special issue: Advances in Ecohydrological Modelling with SWAT

Application of a SWAT model for estimating runoff and

sediment in two mountainous basins in central Iran


1 Isfahan University of Technology, College of Agriculture, 84156 Isfahan, Iran
2 Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Science and Technology, EAWAG, Ueberlandstrasse 133, PO Box 611,
CH-8600 Dbendorf, Switzerland

Abstract The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) was used to model runoff and sediment in the
Beheshtabad (3860 km2) and Vanak (3198 km2) watersheds in the northern Karun catchment in central Iran.
Model calibration and uncertainty analysis were performed with sequential uncertainty fitting (SUFI-2),
which is one of the programs interfaced with SWAT, in the package SWAT-CUP (SWAT Calibration
Uncertainty Programs). Two measures were used to assess the goodness of calibration and uncertainty
analysis: (a) the percentage of data bracketed by the 95% prediction uncertainty (95PPU) (P factor), and
(b) the ratio of average thickness of the 95PPU band to the standard deviation of the corresponding
measured variable (D factor). Ideally, the P factor should tend towards 1 with a D factor close to zero. These
measures together indicate the strength of the calibration-uncertainty analysis. Runoff and sediment data
from four hydrometric stations in each basin were used for calibration and validation. The P factor for
Beheshtabad stations ranged from 0.31 to 0.86, while those for Vanak stations were between 0.71 and 0.80.
The D factor for Beheshtabad ranged from 0.3 to 1.1, and for Vanak it was 0.771.16. These measures
indicate a fair model calibration and accounting of uncertainties. The predicted runoff values were quite
similar to those for discharge.
Key words SWAT-CUP; uncertainty analysis; SUFI-2; sediment; runoff; Iran

Application du modle SWAT pour estimer lcoulement et le transport solide dans deux
bassins versants montagneux du centre de lIran
Rsum Le modle Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) a t utilis pour modliser lcoulement et le
transport sdimentaire dans les bassins versants de Beheshtabad (3860 km2) et de Vanak (3198 km2) du
bassin de Karun dans le centre de lIran. Le calage du modle et une analyse de sensibilit ont t conduits
avec la procdure dajustement squentiel de lincertitude (SUFI-2), qui est lun des programmes interfacs
avec SWAT dans le package SWAT-CUP (SWAT Calibration Uncertainty Programs). Deux mesures ont t
utilises pour valuer la qualit du calage et de lanalyse de sensibilit: (a) le pourcentage de donnes
cartes par lincertitude de prvision 95% (95PPU) (facteur P), et (b) le rapport entre lpaisseur moyenne
de la bande 95PPU band et lcart type de la variable mesure correspondante (facteur D). Idalement, le
facteur P doit tendre vers 1 avec un facteur D proche de zro. Ces mesures indiquent ensemble la force de
lassociation calage-analyse dincertitude. Les donnes de dbit et de transport sdimentaire de quatre
stations hydromtriques dans chaque bassin versant ont t utilises pour le calage et la validation. Le
facteur P va de 0.31 0.86 pour les stations de Beheshtabad, et de 0.71 0.80 pour les stations de Vanak. Le
facteur D va de 0.3 1.1 pour Beheshtabad, et de 0.77 1.16 pour Vanak. Ces valeurs indiquent un calage et
une prise en compte des incertitudes, du et par le modle, corrects. Les simulations prsentent de meilleurs
rsultats pour lcoulement que pour le transport solide.
Mots clefs SWAT-CUP; analyse dincertitude; SUFI-2; sdiment; coulement; Iran

Soil erosion is an important economic, social and environmental problem. According to past
studies, Asia suffers more than other continents from soil erosion, and Iran is one of the worst
affected countries in Asia (Dregne, 1992; FAO, 1994). Based on research by Ahmadi et al. (2003),
the mean annual erosion rate in Iran is estimated to be about 2500 t km-2, which is 4.3 times more
than the mean erosion rate in the world (Ahmadi et al., 2003). Also, available information shows
that 59% of 17 large basins studied in Iran have been severely degraded (Ahmadi et al., 2003). For
the purpose of planning and managing a watershed, information from hydrometric stations is
needed for model calibration. Other data needs for modelling include elevation, soil, land use and
climate. Hydrometric stations are quite limited in the northern Karun catchment in central Iran and

Open for discussion until 1 April 2009 Copyright 2008 IAHS Press
978 Rokhsare Rostamian et al.

many of them have sparse data. Therefore, management plans are difficult to develop due to the
lack of measured data. Hence, watershed modelling plays a crucial role in the proper planning and
development of local resources. In recent years, mathematical models of watershed hydrology and
transport processes have been employed to address a wide spectrum of environmental and water
resources problems.
The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) (Arnold et al., 1998) was developed to predict
the effects of different management practices on water quality, sediment yield and pollution loading
in watersheds. Arnold et al. (2000) applied SWAT with the addition of a streamflow filter and reces-
sion methods for regional estimation of baseflow and groundwater recharge in the upper Mississippi
River basin. The results showed a general tendency for SWAT to underpredict spring peaks and to
overestimate autumn streamflow compared to measured monthly data during both calibration and
validation periods. Tolson & Shoemaker (2004) reported application of the SWAT2000 model to
Cannonsville Reservoir, a New York City water supply reservoir, and found it was a valuable tool
that could be used to help identify and quantitatively evaluate the long-term effects of various phos-
phorus management options for mitigating loading to the reservoir. Abbaspour et al. (2007) used
the SWAT model to simulate all related processes affecting water quantity, sediment and nutrient
loads in the Thur watershed in Switzerland. Their study indicated excellent results for discharge
and nitrate, and quite good results for sediment and total phosphorus.
Mountainous regions in Iran are important sources of surface water supply and groundwater
recharge. Our objectives in this investigation were to evaluate SWAT and its applicability in the
Iranian mountainous regions for prediction of streamflow and sediment yield. The two watersheds
chosen, Beheshtabad and Vanak (named after the important stations in these watersheds), are
located in the Karun basin, which is an important source of water for the central and western part
of the country.
As distributed hydrological modelling is subject to large uncertainties, the definition and
quantification of model uncertainty have become the subject of considerable research in recent
years. To fulfil this demand, researchers have developed various uncertainty analysis techniques
for watershed models. These include Bayesian inference methods, such as: the Markov chain
Monte Carlo (MCMC) method (Kuczera & Parent, 1998; Vrugt et al., 2003; Yang et al., 2007);
generalized likelihood uncertainty estimation (GLUE) (Beven & Binley, 1992); parameter solution
(ParaSol) (van Griensven & Meixner, 2006); and sequential uncertainty fitting (SUFI-2)
(Abbaspour, et al., 2007). As no single calibration program can meet the objectives of different
modelling needs, GLUE, ParaSol, SUFI-2, and MCMC were interfaced with SWAT into a single
package, referred to as SWAT-CUP (SWAT Calibration Uncertainty Programs) (Abbaspour,
2007). In the current study, we used SUFI-2 for a combined calibration and uncertainty analysis of
our SWAT models.


2.1 Description of the study area
The Beheshtabad watershed, with an area of about 3860 km2, is located in the northern part of the
Karun basin in Iran (Fig. 1). The elevation ranges from 1660 m at the outlet of the watershed to
3620 m on Saldaran Mountain. Nearly 79% of the watershed area lies between 20002500 m
a.m.s.l. The average slope for this basin is about 27%, the mean annual temperature 11C and the
mean annual precipitation is 471 mm, of which 245 mm falls during the winter months, 89 mm
during spring, 5 mm during summer and 132 mm during autumn. About 55% of precipitation in
the Beheshtabad watershed falls as snow. Approximately 42% of the watershed is covered by
pasture, 12% by rocks and 46% of the land is used for agricultural activities. The major crops are
wheat and alfalfa. About 57% of agricultural activities are rainfed.
The Vanak watershed, with an area of about 3198 km2, is located in the southern part of
Karun basin (Fig. 1). The elevation ranges from 1120 m at the outlet of the watershed to 3860 m
on Hezardareh Mountain. Nearly 85% of the watershed area lies between 2000 and 3000 m. The

Copyright 2008 IAHS Press

Application of a SWAT model for estimating runoff and sediment 979


Vanak watershed

Fig. 1 Location of the Beheshtabad and Vanak watersheds in western Iran.

mean annual temperature is 11C and mean annual precipitation is 600 mm. About 60% of
precipitation in Vanak watershed falls as snow. Approximately 40% of the land within the basin is
used for agricultural activities. Approximately 50% of the watershed is covered by pasture and
10% by rocks. About 56% of agricultural activities are rainfed farming.

2.2 Description of SWAT

The SWAT model is a basin-scale, continuous time model that operates on a daily time step and
evaluates the impact of management practices on water, sediment and agricultural chemical yields
in ungauged basins (Arnold et al., 1998). The models major components include weather,
hydrology, erosion, soil temperature, plant growth, nutrients, pesticides, land management,
channel and reservoir routing.
In SWAT, the watershed is divided into multiple sub-basins, which are then further sub-
divided into hydrological response units (HRUs). These units consist of homogeneous land-use,
management and soil characteristics. The water balance of each HRU is represented by four
storage volumes including: snow, soil profile (02 m), shallow aquifer (typically 220 m) and
deep aquifer (>20 m).
The SWAT provides two methods for estimating surface runoff: the SCS curve number and
the Green-Ampt infiltration method. In this study, we used the SCS curve number method. The
peak runoff is an indicator of the erosive power of a storm and is used to predict sediment loss.
The SWAT calculates the peak runoff rate with a modified rational method (Chow et al., 1988).
Lateral subsurface flow in the soil profile (02 m) is calculated simultaneously with percolation. A
kinematic storage routing that is based on the degree of slope, slope length and saturated hydraulic
conductivity is used to predict lateral flow in each soil layer. Lateral flow occurs when the storage
in any layer exceeds field capacity after percolation.
Groundwater flow contribution to total streamflow is simulated by creating shallow aquifer
storage (Arnold & Allen, 1996). Percolation from the bottom of the root zone is considered as
recharge to the shallow aquifer. In SWAT, there are three methods for estimating potential
evapotranspiration: Priestley & Taylor (1972), Penman-Monteith (Monteith, 1965) and Hargreaves

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980 Rokhsare Rostamian et al.

& Samani (1985). Water flow is routed through the channel network using the variable storage
routing method or the Muskingum river routing method. Sediment yield in SWAT is estimated
with the modified soil loss equation (MUSLE) developed by Williams & Berndt (1977).

2.3 Description of SUFI-2

In this research, various SWAT parameters related to discharge and sediment were estimated using
the SUFI-2 algorithm (Abbaspour et al., 2007). In SUFI-2, uncertainty is defined as the dis-
crepancy between measured and simulated variables. To account for this uncertainty, we therefore
need to capture the measured data, except the outliers, in the prediction uncertainty. Therefore,
SUFI-2 combines calibration and uncertainty analysis to find parameter uncertainties that result in
prediction uncertainties bracketing most of the measured data, while producing the smallest
possible prediction uncertainty band. Hence, these parameter uncertainties reflect all sources of
uncertainties, i.e. conceptual model, forcing inputs (e.g. rainfall), and parameter. In SUFI-2,
uncertainty of input parameters is depicted as a uniform distribution, while model output uncer-
tainty is quantified at the 95% prediction uncertainty (95PPU). The cumulative distribution of an
output variable is obtained through Latin hypercube sampling. The SUFI-2 model starts by
assuming a large parameter uncertainty (within a physically meaningful range), so that the
measured data initially fall within the 95PPU, then decreases this uncertainty in steps while
monitoring the P factor and the D factor. The P factor is the percentage of data bracketed in the
95% prediction uncertainty (95PPU) calculated at the 2.5% and the 97.5% intervals of the
simulated variables. This factor indicates how much of the uncertainty we are capturing. The D
factor, on the other hand, captures the goodness of calibration, as a smaller 95PPU band indicates a
better calibration result. In each iteration, previous parameter ranges are updated by calculating the
sensitivity matrix, and the equivalent of a Hessian matrix (Neudecker & Magnus, 1988), followed
by the calculation of a covariance matrix, 95% confidence intervals of the parameters, and a
correlation matrix. Parameters are then updated in such a way that the new ranges are always
smaller than the previous ranges, and are centred around the best simulation (for more detail see
Abbaspour et al., 2007). Because this analytical approach considers a band of model solutions
(95PPU) instead of a best fit solution, the goodness of fit and the degree to which the calibrated
model accounts for the uncertainties are assessed by the above two measures instead of the usual
R2 or Nash-Sutcliffe coefficient (Nash & Sutcliffe, 1970), which only compare two signals. An
ideal situation would lead to a P factor approaching 100% and a D factor approaching zero.

2.4 Model parameterization and application

Parameterization of a watershed model is a difficult task as there are seemingly countless
solutions. For example, consider a soil map. Should similar soils in different parts of a region be
given the same parameters? There is no reason why this should be so, as a soil type may have
different parameters in different places because it is in a different climatic region or under a
different land use or soil management. This may, therefore, result in thousands of parameters;
hence, some kind of integration is necessary. The interface linking SWAT to various calibration
programs in SWAT-CUP allows parameter aggregation on the basis of hydrological group, soil
texture, land use, and sub-basin number formulated as:
where x__ is a code to indicate the type of change to be applied to the parameter. If replaced by
v__ it means the default parameter is replaced by a given value; while a__ means a given quantity
should be added to the default value, and r__ means the existing parameter value is multiplied by
(1 + a given value); <parname> is the SWAT parameter name; <ext> is the SWAT file extension
code for the file containing the parameter; <hydrogrp> is the soil hydrological group (A, B, C or
D); <soltext> is the soil texture; <landuse> is the land-use category; and <subbsn> is the sub-basin
number, crop index, or fertilizer index. Any combination of the above factors can be used to
describe a parameter identifier, thus providing the opportunity for a detailed parameterization of

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Application of a SWAT model for estimating runoff and sediment 981

Calibration program backup

SWAT input swat_edit.exe


SWAT output


Fig. 2 Interaction between a calibration program and SWAT in SWAT-CUP.

the system. Omitting the identifiers <hydrogrp>, <soltext>, <landuse>, and <subbsn> allows
global assignment of parameters.
The program SWAT-CUP, coupling various programs to SWAT, has the general concept
shown in Fig. 2. The steps are: (a) calibration programs write model parameters in;
(b) swat_edit.exe edits the SWAT text files, inserting the new parameter values; (c) the SWAT
simulator is run; and (d) the swat_extract.exe program extracts the desired variables from the
SWAT output files and writes them to model.out. The procedure continues as required by the
calibration program (see Abbaspour, 2007 for more detail).
The parameterization and the basic data sets required to develop the two projects for this study
in the ArcView interface (Di Luzio et al., 2002) were: topography, soil, land-use, and climatic
data. The data used in modelling are as follows:
(i) a digital elevation model (DEM) taken from the National Cartographic Centre of Iran (grid:
20 m 20 m);
(ii) a digital stream network at the 1:75 000 scale, produced by the National Cartographic Centre
of Iran;
(iii) soil and land-use maps, at a scale of 1:100 000, produced by the Natural Resources
Department of the Cartographic Centre of Iran; and
(iv) climate data records from 17 precipitation gauges and seven air temperature gauges over a
period of 19 years (19852004); data were obtained from the Iran Metrological Organization.
The Beheshtabad watershed was subdivided into 32 sub-basins and 451 HRUs. The soil map
includes 44 types of soil. Soil texture, available water content, hydraulic conductivity, bulk density
and organic carbon content information were available for different layers for each soil type.
Wheat and alfalfa were chosen as representative crops in the Beheshtabad watershed. The
simulation time period was 19922004, where the first four years were used as a warm-up. Data
from the Beheshtabad, Darkeshvarkesh, Kohesokhte and Polkharagy hydrometric stations in the
Beheshtabad watershed were used for calibration and validation. As the available stations did not
have data for every month of the simulation period, it was inevitable to include different time
periods for calibration at different stations. Three-quarters of the available data for the stations at
Beheshtabad watershed were used for calibration and the remainder were used for validation.
The Vanak watershed was subdivided into 37 sub-basins and 247 HRUs. About 41 soil types
were identified for this watershed and wheat was chosen as a representative crop. The simulation
time period was 19852004, where the first four years were also used as a warm-up. Data from the
Vanak, Kasegan, Solegan, and Aghbolag hydrometric stations were used for calibration and
validation. Two-thirds of the available data at each station were used for calibration and the
remainder were used for validation. In both watersheds, the Hargreaves-Samani method was used

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982 Rokhsare Rostamian et al.

to estimate evapotranspiration, and the Muskingum routing method was selected to route water
through the channel network.
The SWAT model was initially calibrated based on the monthly measured discharge data. The
objective function, G, was formulated using the Nash-Sutcliffe coefficient:

(Qm Qs )i2
G = NS = 1 i

(Qm,i Qm )

where subscripts m and s represent measured and simulated, respectively, and Qm is the average
of measured data. The model was then recalibrated for both discharge and sediment by including
sediment in the objective function as well:
G = w1 NS Q + w 2 NS S
where subscripts Q and S represent discharge and sediment load, respectively, and w1 and w2 are
weights calculated as 1 / n 2 , where n is the number of data and 2 is the variance of the
respective variables.
Sediment data were based on collected grab samples, which were used to measure suspended
solids. Because these grab samples were the only available data for model calibration, the
sediment calibration should be considered as preliminary in this study.


An initial sensitivity analysis resulted in the choice of parameters that were calibrated as listed in
Table 1. The results of monthly discharge calibration at Beheshtabad are shown in Fig. 3. The D
factor (thickness of uncertainty band) of less than 1 generally indicates a good calibration result.
This is evident for all four stations (Beheshtabad, Darkeshvarkesh, Kohesokhte, and Polkharagy),
where the D factor is relatively small. However, the P factor (% of data bracketed by 95PPU) for
Darkeshvarkesh and Polkharagy is too small, which indicates that the actual uncertainty is larger
than that shown. This could be improved upon at the expense of a larger D factor. Because of the
lack of a longer data period, the validation data set is unfortunately too short. Nevertheless, as
illustrated in Fig. 4, the flow dynamic is quite well simulated for all stations. However, the P factor
for Darkeshvarkesh and Polkharagy is again too small, while the D factor for stations Kohesokhte
and Polkharagy is large, indicating substantial uncertainties.
A limitation of SWAT is that it does not rigorously simulate groundwater flow. Groundwater
recharge is important in these regions. A careful examination of the calibration results shows that a
large number of un-bracketed data fall in the baseflow. If baseflow were better simulated, a larger
P factor as well as a smaller D factor could be achieved for an overall better calibration result.
Therefore, parameters that account for less well understood processes, such as groundwater
recharge and groundwaterriver interaction, were important and dominated the flow processes.
Furthermore, there are many springs in the two watersheds that are important in supplying
irrigation water in the region. However, there were no available data for the springs to be used in
the simulations. This, in turn, has also complicated our understanding of the simulation results.
The elevation of the Darkeshvarkesh sub-basin in the Beheshtabad watershed varies between
2000 and 3600 m. This sub-basin is highly mountainous with substantial variation in elevation and
high-discharge springs. The Polkharagy is the largest sub-basin covering about 70% of the total
area of the Beheshtabad watershed. It too is characterized by many springs. These are probably
some of the reasons for the poorer results at the Polkharagy and Darkeshvarkesh sub-basins.
Table 2 shows the simulated and measured time of peak flow and extreme events in all the
watersheds. It is seen that half of the time the timing of peak flow is off by one to three months.
The measured peaks, however, are mostly within the large uncertainty intervals.

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Application of a SWAT model for estimating runoff and sediment 983

Table 1 Description of SWAT2000 input parameters selected for calibration.

Parameter name* Description Initial range Final range
min max min Max
r__CN2.mgt Curve number for moisture condition II 0.40 0.40 0.20 0.18
r__SOL_BD.sol Soil bulk density 0.30 0.30 0.18 0.03
r__SOL_AWC.sol Soil available water storage capacity 0.30 0.30 0.08 0.11
r__SOL_K.sol Soil hydraulic conductivity 0.80 0.80 0.45 0.10
r__SOL_ALB.sol Moist soil albedo 0.50 0.50 0.11 0.11 Baseflow alpha factor 0 1 0.12 0.40 Groundwater delay time 0 400 80 125 Threshold water in shallow aquifer 0 100 100 100 Revap coefficient 0.02 0.20 0.20 0.20 Initial depth of water in the shallow aquifer 0 1000 10 10 Deep aquifer percolation fraction 0 1 0 0
v__EPCO.hru Plant uptake compensation factor 0.01 1 0.20 0.50
v__ESCO.hru Soil evaporation compensation factor 0.01 1 0.30 0.50
v__SLSUBBSN.hru Average slope length 10 150 54 145
v__OV_N.hru Mannings n value for overland flow 0 0.80 0.47 0.47
v__CH_N2.rte Mannings n value for the main channel 0 0.30 0 15
v__CH_K2.rte Main channel conductivity 0 150 0 75
v__SFTMP.bsn Snowmelt temperature 5 5 1.30 4
v__SMTMP.bsn Snowmelt base temperature 5 5 2.30 5
v__SMFMX.bsn Melt factor for snow on 21 June 0 10 1.50 6
v__SMFMN.bsn Melt factor for snow on 21 December 0 10 0 3
v__TIMP.bsn Snow pack temperature lag factor 0.01 1 0.47 0.47
v__MSK_CO1.bsn Muskingum coefficient 0 10 1.90 6
v__MSK_CO2.bsn Muskingum coefficient 0 10 2.50 6.00
v__SURLAG.bsn Surface runoff lag coefficient 1 24 13.46 13.46
v__PRF.bsn Peak factor for sediment routing channel 0 1 0.18 0.27
v__APM.bsn Peak factor for sediment routing sub-basin 0.50 2 1 1.2
v__SPCON.bsn Channel sediment routing parameter 0.002 0.005 0.003 0.005
v__SPEXP.bsn Exponent parameter for calculating sediment
re-entrained in channel 1 1.5 1 1.08
v__CH_EROD.rte Channel erodibility factor 0 0.30 0.05 0.14
v__CH_COV.rte Channel cover factor 0.04 0.60 0.20 0.25
r__USLE-K.sol USLE soil erodibility factor 0.3 0.30 0.12 0.18
r__Rock.sol Rock fragment counter 0.30 0.30 0.20 0.10
v__USLE-P.mgt USLE equation support practice factor 0.10 0.90 0.33 0.45
v__Lat-sed.hru Sediment concentration in lateral and
groundwater flow 0 200 0 15
* v__: means the default parameter is replaced by a given value, and r__ means the existing parameter value is
multiplied by (1 + a given value)

The results of monthly runoff calibration and validation for Vanak watershed are presented in
Figs 5 and 6, respectively. These results are generally better than Beheshtabad in terms of the
percentage of data being bracketed (P factor), but the uncertainties are larger as expressed by the D
factor. This has resulted in large uncertainty in discharge peaks for all stations. For the validation
period, P factor values for stations in the Vanak watershed ranged from 0.77 to 0.89. The range of
D factor values for these stations is 0.862.04. Although the simulation of monthly runoff for the
Kasegan station was satisfactory during the calibration period, the SWAT model exhibited large
uncertainties for the validation period. The results of the timing for peak flow and the measured
peaks in Table 2 are similar to those of Beheshtabad watershed.
In both watersheds, the model mostly shows large uncertainties at extreme events during the
calibration and validation periods. Both watersheds are mountainous and snowfall is very
important (about 55% of precipitation in Beheshtabad and 60% of precipitation in Vanak falls as
snow). The SWAT model classifies precipitation as rain or snow using the average daily
temperature. Due to an apparent weakness of the model to simulate discharge in MarchMay, it

Copyright 2008 IAHS Press

984 Rokhsare Rostamian et al.

Beheshtabad - Calibration Darkeshvarkesh - Calibration

100 80
95PPU Observed P-factor = 0.31 95PPU Observed
P-factor = 0.61
D-factor = 0.3
D-factor = 0.48

Discharge (m3 s-1)

Discharge (m3 s-1)




0 0
1998/10 1999/08 2000/06 2001/04 2002/02 2002/12 1996/01 1997/01 1998/01 1999/01 2000/01 2001/01 2002/01

Polkhargy - Calibration
Kohesokhte - Calibration 30
P-factor = 0.86 P-factor = 0.55 95PPU Observed
95PPU Observed
D-factor = 1.1 D-factor = 0.80

Discharge (m s )
Discharge (m3 s-1)

40 20

20 10

0 0
1997/09 1998/07 1999/05 2000/03 2001/01 2001/11 2002/09 1998/10 1999/06 2000/02 2000/10 2001/06 2002/02 2002/10
Month Month

Fig. 3 Monthly runoff calibrationBeheshtabad watershed.

Beheshtabad - Validation Darkeshvarkesh - Validation

80 40
P-factor = 0.53 95PPU Observed P-factor = 0.31 95PPU Observed
D-factor = 0.38 D-factor = 0.36
60 30
Discharge (m3 s-1)

Discharge (m s )

40 20

20 10

0 0
2003/04 2003/09 2004/02 2004/07 2002/07 2003/01 2003/07 2004/01 2004/07
Kohesokhte - Validation
30 Polkharagy - Validation
P-factor = 0.80 95 PPU Observed 20
P-factor = 0.33
D-factor = 1.33 95 PPU Observed
D-factor = 1.52
Discharge (m s )
Discharge (m3 s-1)





0 0
2002/12 2003/06 2003/12 2004/06 2003/03 2003/07 2003/11 2004/03 2004/07
Month Month
Fig. 4 Monthly runoff validationBeheshtabad watershed.

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Application of a SWAT model for estimating runoff and sediment 985

Kasegan - Calibration Solegan - Calibration

80 120
P-factor = 0.71 95PPU Observed P-factor = 0.79
D-factor = 1.16 95PPU Observed
D-factor = 0.97
Discharge (m 3 s-1)

Discharge (m 3 s -1)



0 0
1989/9 1991/5 1993/1 1994/9 1996/5 1998/1 1989/9 1991/5 1993/1 1994/9 1996/5
Aghbolag - Calibration
60 Vanak - Calibration
P-factor = 0.78 95PPU Observed P-factor = 0.80 95PPU Observed
D-factor = 1.14 160
D-factor = 0.77
Discharge (m3 s-1)

Discharge (m s )



0 0
1996/9 1997/7 1998/5 1999/3 2000/1
1995/9 1996/12 1998/3 1999/6 2000/9
Fig. 5 Monthly runoff calibrationVanak watershed.

Kasegan - Validation Solegan - Validation

80 160
P-factor = 0.79 95PPU Observed P-factor = 0.77
D-factor = 2.04 95PPU Observed
D-factor = 1.20
60 120
Discharge (m3 s-1)
Discharge (m 3 s -1)

40 80

20 40

0 0
1998/10 2000/1 2001/4 2002/7 2003/10 1996/10 1997/9 1998/8 1999/7 2000/6 2001/5
Vanak - Validation
Aghbolag - Validation
30 P-factor = 0.89 95PPU Observed
P-factor = 0.81 95PPU observed D-factor = 0.86
D-factor = 0.95 80
Discharge (m s )
Discharge (m3 s-1)



0 0
2000/10 2001/6 2002/2 2002/10 2003/6 2000/10 2001/6 2002/2 2002/10 2003/6
Month Month
Fig. 6 Monthly runoff validationVanak watershed.

Copyright 2008 IAHS Press

986 Rokhsare Rostamian et al.

Table 2 Measured and simulated extreme events and peak times.

Station Time of peak discharge (month): Peak runoff (m3 s-1):
Measured Simulated Measured Simulated
Beheshtabad 1999/02 1999/03 30 1240
2002/01 2002/01 59 2170
2002/04 2002/04 81 3281
Darkeshvarkesh 1996/04 1996/02 48 820
1997/04 1997/04 32 720
1998/03 1998/02 47 1750
Kohesokhte 1998/03 1998/03 34 1740
Polkharagy 2002/04 2002/01 18 822
Vanak 1996/03 1996/02 60 1060
1998/04 1998/03 78 40160
Aghbolag 1998/03 1998/03 15 2055
Kasegan 1993/03 1993/03 30 1063
Solegan 1993/03 1993/03 63 20100

seems that we were not able to adequately calibrate SWAT to simulate snowmelt in these moun-
tainous watersheds.
Similar conclusions were reached by Fontaine et al. (2002), who modified the snowmelt
component of the SWAT model to improve its capability to simulate hydrology of a non-
agricultural mountainous region (unfortunately we did not have access to this modification). Their
results indicated that the modified routines improved the models annual streamflow prediction
with an R2 value of 0.86 compared to an initial value of 0.7. Chu & Shirmohammadi (2004)
applied the SWAT model to predict surface and subsurface flow for a 340-ha watershed in the
Piedmont physiographic region of Maryland. Preliminary simulations showed that SWAT
underestimates subsurface flow and total streamflow, especially during wet periods. They reported
that SWAT is unable to simulate the extremely wet hydrological conditions, even after
adjustments to measured data. Tolson & Shoemaker (2004) reported that SWAT is not designed to
simulate such an extreme event and the model usually underpredicts the largest flow events.
The results of daily sediment calibration for Beheshtabad watershed are shown in Fig. 7. The
P factor values range from 0.32 to 0.76, while D factors range from 0.19 to 1.13. In general,
similar to discharge, it is the smaller sediment values that are mostly not bracketed by the pre-
diction band. This is probably due to the weakness of the model to simulate snowmelt. Other
reasons could be poor accuracy of the measured data and the dispersed nature of the data. The
largest error in prediction of sediment, however, was associated with large peak flows. Tolson &
Shoemaker (2004) calibrated and validated SWAT model for prediction of dissolved and
particulate phosphorus transport, and also flow and sediment transport, against a large set of
monitoring data. As in our case, they reported that the largest error in model predictions for
sediment loading was always associated with peak flow prediction errors. As Abbaspour et al.
(2007) discuss, the second storm effect may also be partly responsible for poor sediment results.
Despite these shortcomings we find the results quite useful, given that grab samples were used to
represent the measured data. Validation results for sediment are shown in Fig. 8, where large
uncertainties can be seen. The sediment results for the Vanak watershed were generally worse than
those for Beheshtabad and are not shown.

The SWAT model was applied to two mountainous watersheds in central Iran to predict runoff and
sediment. As expected, predicted runoff values were much better than those for sediment. The
weakness of the model to simulate runoff for some months was probably due to poor characteriza-
tion of snowmelt processes in these mountainous watersheds, lack of sufficient discharge data, and

Copyright 2008 IAHS Press

Application of a SWAT model for estimating runoff and sediment 987

Beheshtabad - Calibration Darkeshvarkesh - Calibration

P-factor = 0.32
P-factor = 0.55 95PPU Observed 95 ppu observed
60000 D-factor = 1.13
D-factor = 0.41

Daily Sediment (tn)

Daily Sediment (tn)



0 0
3/2/1996 1/2/1998 11/2/1999 9/2/2001 1/2/1996 9/2/1997 5/2/1999 1/2/2001 9/2/2002

Kohesokhte - Calibration Polkharagy - Calibration

P-factor = 0.76 P-factor = 0.58
95 PPU Observed 95PPU Observed
D-factor = 0.40 12000 D-factor = 0.19

Daily Sediment (tn)

Daily Sediment (tn)



0 0
1/2/1996 9/2/1997 5/2/1999 1/2/2001 10/5/1997 6/5/1999 2/5/2001 10/5/2002
Date Date
Fig. 7 Daily sediment calibrationBeheshtabad.

Darkeshvarkesh - Validation
Beheshtabad- Validation
20000 P-factor = 0.43
P-factor = 0.69 95 ppu observed
95 PPU Observed 12000 D-factor = 0.23
D-factor = 0.29
Daily Sediment (tn)

Daily Sediment (tn)



0 0
11/9/2002 6/9/2003 1/9/2004 8/9/2004 11/7/2002 5/7/2003 11/7/2003 5/7/2004
Kohesokhte - Validation Polkharagy - Validation
4000 1500
P-factor = 0.83 P-factor = 0.57
95PPU Observed 95 PPU Observed
D-factor = 0.43 D-factor = 0.42
Daily Sedim ent (tn)

Daily Sediment (tn)




0 0
7/15/2002 3/15/2003 11/15/2003 7/15/2004 6/3/2003 11/3/2003 4/3/2004 9/3/2004
Date Date
Fig. 8 Daily sediment validationBeheshtabad.

Copyright 2008 IAHS Press

988 Rokhsare Rostamian et al.

lack of input data for simulation of groundwater recharge and groundwaterriver interaction. The
weakness of the model to simulate sediment was due to the improper peak runoff simulation and the
nature and accuracy of the measured sediment data. Prediction of runoff and soil loss is important for
assessing soil erosion hazards, and for determining suitable land uses and soil conservation measures
for a catchment. In turn, this can help in deriving optimum benefit from the use of the land whilst
minimising the negative impacts of land degradation and other environmental problems. As there are
limited data available from the region of study, the model developed herein could help assess
different land management options and in studying the effect of climate change on soil erosion.

Acknowledgements This study was supported partly by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic
Science and Technology (Eawag). The authors would like to express their appreciation for this

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Received 15 January 2008; accepted 23 June 2008

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