In the distributed hydrological simulations for complex mountain areas, large amounts of meteorological input parameters with high spatial and temporal resolutions are necessary. However, the extreme scarcity and uneven distribution of the traditional meteorological observation stations in cold and arid regions of Northwest China makes it very difficult in meeting the requirements of hydrological simulations. Alternatively, regional climate models (RCMs), which can provide a variety of distributed meteorological data with high temporal and spatial resolution, have become an effective solution to improve hydrological simulation accuracy and to further study water resource responses to human activities and global climate change. In this study, abundant and evenly distributed virtual weather stations in the upper reaches of the Heihe River Basin (HRB) of Northwest China were built for the optimization of the input data, and thus a regional integrated environmental model system (RIEMS) based on RCM and a distributed hydrological model of soil and water assessment tool (SWAT) were integrated as a coupled climate–hydrological RIEMS-SWAT model, which was applied to simulate monthly runoff from 1995 to 2010 in the region. Results show that the simulated and observed values are close; Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency is higher than 0.65; determination coefficient (R2
) values are higher than 0.70; percent bias is controlled within ±20%; and root-mean-square-error-observation standard deviation ratio is less than 0.65. These results indicate that the coupled model can present basin hydrological processes properly, and provide scientific support for prediction and management of basin water resources.
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