Physically based distributed hydrologic models (DHMs) simulate watershed processes by applying physical equations with a variety of simplifying assumptions and discretization approaches. These equations depend on parameters that, in most cases, can be measured and, theoretically, transferred across different types of DHMs. The aim of this study is to test the potential of parameter transferability in a real catchment for two contrasting periods among three DHMs of varying complexity. The case study chosen is a small Mediterranean catchment where the TIN-based Real-time Integrated Basin Simulator (tRIBS) model was previously calibrated and tested. The same datasets and parameters are used here to apply two other DHMs—the TOPographic Kinematic Approximation and Integration model (TOPKAPI) and CATchment HYdrology (CATHY) models. Model performance was measured against observed discharge at the basin outlet for a one-year period (1930) corresponding to average wetness conditions for the region, and for a much drier two-year period (1931–1932). The three DHMs performed comparably for the 1930 period but showed more significant differences (the CATHY model in particular for the dry period. In order to improve the performance of CATHY for this latter period, an hypothesis of soil crusting was introduced, assigning a lower saturated hydraulic conductivity to the top soil layer. It is concluded that, while the physical basis for the three models allowed transfer of parameters in a broad sense, transferability can break down when simulation conditions are greatly altered.
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