Frozen ground and precipitation seasonality may strongly affect hydrological processes in a cold alpine basin, but the calibration of a hydrological model rarely considers their impacts on model parameters, likely leading to considerable simulation biases. In this study, we conducted a case study in a typical alpine catchment, the Babao River basin, in Northwest China, using the distributed hydrology–soil–vegetation model (DHSVM), to investigate the impacts of frozen ground type and precipitation seasonality on model parameters. The sensitivity analysis identified seven sensitive parameters in the DHSVM, amid which soil model parameters are found sensitive to the frozen ground type and land cover/vegetation parameters sensitive to dry and wet seasons. A stratified calibration approach that considers the impacts on model parameters of frozen soil types and seasons was then proposed and implemented by the particle swarm optimization method. The results show that the proposed calibration approach can obviously improve simulation accuracy in modeling streamflow in the study basin. The seasonally stratified calibration has an advantage in controlling evapotranspiration and surface flow in rainy periods, while the spatially stratified calibration considering frozen soil type enhances the simulation of base flow. In a typical cold alpine area without sufficient measured parametric values, this approach can outperform conventional calibration approaches in providing more robust parameter values. The underestimation in the April streamflow also highlights the importance of improved physics in a hydrological model, without which the model calibration cannot fully compensate the gap.
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