Scale issues in hydrological modelling: A review

G. Blöschl, M. Sivapalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


A framework is provided for scaling and scale issues in hydrology. The first section gives some basic definitions. This is important as researchers do not seem to have agreed on the meaning of concepts such as scale or upscaling. ‘Process scale’, ‘observation scale’ and ‘modelling (working) scale’ require different definitions. The second section discusses heterogeneity and variability in catchments and touches on the implications of randomness and organization for scaling. The third section addresses the linkages across scales from a modelling point of view. It is argued that upscaling typically consists of two steps: distributing and aggregating. Conversely, downscaling involves disaggregation and singling out. Different approaches are discussed for linking state variables, parameters, inputs and conceptualizations across scales. This section also deals with distributed parameter models, which are one way of linking conceptualizations across scales. The fourth section addresses the linkages across scales from a more holistic perspective dealing with dimensional analysis and similarity concepts. The main difference to the modelling point of view is that dimensional analysis and similarity concepts deal with complex processes in a much simpler fashion. Examples of dimensional analysis, similarity analysis and functional normalization in catchment hydrology are given. This section also briefly discusses fractals, which are a popular tool for quantifying variability across scales. The fifth section focuses on one particular aspect of this holistic view, discussing stream network analysis. The paper concludes with identifying key issues and gives some directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-290
Number of pages40
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggregation
  • Dimensional analysis
  • Distributed modelling
  • Effective parameters
  • Fractals
  • Geomorphologic unit hydrograph
  • Scale
  • Scaling
  • Similarity
  • Stream network analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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