Analysis of a changing hydrologic flood regime using the Variable Infiltration Capacity model

Daeryong Park, Momcilo Markus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Pecatonica River and several other streams in the Wisconsin Driftless area show a decreasing trend in annual peak flows. Previous studies of the Pecatonica River detected a significant decreasing historical trend in late winter snowmelt-driven floods, while the rainfall-driven spring and summer flood peaks exhibited no significant trend during the period of record. Unlike several previous studies which attribute the decline in flood peaks mainly to changes in land management, we hypothesize that climate change had a significant contribution to the overall decrease in flood peaks. In particular, we hypothesize that the increase in winter temperatures caused the decrease in snow depth, which in turn resulted in a decreasing trend in flood peaks. In an attempt to validate this hypothesis, we used long-term daily precipitation, temperature, and river flow data observed in the watershed as inputs to the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model to generate other non-monitored climatic variables. Trends in these climatic variables were then related to the trend in flood peaks in the Pecatonica River. Due to the complexity of the hydrologic system and numerous data and modeling-related uncertainties, the above hypothesis cannot be validated with certainty. Nonetheless, the results in two different modes (event and continuous simulation) provide support to the speculation that the decreasing trend in flood peaks was a result of decreasing snow depth. The model runs resulted in a decrease in snow depths for the period of record (1915-2009), increase in sublimation and evaporation, no change in base flow, and mixed results in infiltration. These analyses also suggest that VIC can be used in other similar regions in snowmelt-driven flood peak studies. It should be recognized, however, that the success of these applications can be severely constrained by various uncertainties, including but not limited to, the poor quality or absence of snow depth data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-280
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Jul 6 2014


  • Climate change
  • Flood frequency
  • Hydrologic change
  • Snow hydrology
  • VIC model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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