Parameter uncertainty in hydrologic modeling is commonly evaluated, but assessing the impact of spatial input data uncertainty in spatially descriptive ‘distributed’ models is not common. This study compares the significance of uncertainty in spatial input data and model parameters on the output uncertainty of a distributed hydrology and sediment transport model, HYdrology Simulation using Time-ARea method (HYSTAR). The Shuffled Complex Evolution Metropolis (SCEM-UA) algorithm was used to quantify parameter uncertainty of the model. Errors in elevation and land cover layers were simulated using the Sequential Gaussian/Indicator Simulation (SGS/SIS) techniques and then incorporated into the model to evaluate their impact on the outputs relative to those of the parameter uncertainty. This study demonstrated that parameter uncertainty had a greater impact on model output than did errors in the spatial input data. In addition, errors in elevation data had a greater impact on model output than did errors in land cover data. Thus, for the HYSTAR distributed hydrologic model, accuracy and reliability can be improved more effectively by refining parameters rather than further improving the accuracy of spatial input data and by emphasizing the topographic data over the land cover data.

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