Process-based models are widely used to investigate nutrient dynamics for water management purposes. Simulating nutrient transport and transformation processes from agricultural land into water bodies at the catchment scale are particularly relevant and challenging tasks for water authorities. However, few practical methods guide inexperienced modelers in the selection process of an appropriate model. In particular, data availability is a key aspect in a model selection protocol, since a large number of models contain the functionalities to predict nutrient fate and transport, yet a smaller number is applicable to specific datasets. In our work, we aim at providing a model selection protocol fit for practical application with particular emphasis on data availability, cost-benefit analysis and user’s objectives. We select for illustrative purposes five process-based models with different complexity as “candidates” models: SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool), SWIM (Soil and Water Integrated Model), GWLF (Generalized Watershed Loading Function), AnnAGNPS (Annualized Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution model) and HSPF (Hydrological simulation program-FORTRAN). The models are described in terms of hydrological and chemical output and input requirements. The model selection protocol considers data availability, model characteristics and user’s objectives and it is applied to hypothetical scenarios. This selection method is particularly formulated to choose process-based models for nutrient modeling, but it can be generalized for other applications which are characterized by a similar degree of complexity.
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