The Xinanjiang model has been widely used in the humid regions in southern China as a basic tool for rainfall–runoff simulation, flood forecasting and water resources planning and management. However, its performance in the arid and semi-arid regions of northern China is usually not so good as in the humid regions. A modified Xinanjiang model, in which runoff generation in the watershed is based on both infiltration excess and saturation excess runoff mechanisms, is presented and discussed. Three different watersheds are selected for assessing and comparing the performance of the Xinanjiang model, the modified Xinanjiang model, the VIC model and the TOPMODEL in rainfall–runoff simulation. It is found that the modified Xinanjiang model performs better than the Xinanjiang model, and the models considering the Horton and Dunne runoff generation mechanisms are slightly better than those models considering the single runoff generation mechanism in semi-arid areas. It is suggested that the infiltration excess runoff mechanism should be included in rainfall–runoff models in arid and semi-arid regions.

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