## Extern

Predictability of hydrologic response at the plot and catchment scales: Role of initial conditions
(2004)

This paper examines the effect of uncertain initial soil moisture on hydrologic response at the plot scale (1 m2) and the catchment scale (3.6 km2) in the presence of threshold transitions between matrix and preferential flow. We adopt the concepts of microstates and macrostates from statistical mechanics. The microstates are the detailed patterns of initial soil moisture that are inherently unknown, while the macrostates are specified by the statistical distributions of initial soil moisture that can be derived from the measurements typically available in field experiments. We use a physically based model and ensure that it closely represents the processes in the Weiherbach catchment, Germany. We then use the model to generate hydrologic response to hypothetical irrigation events and rainfall events for multiple realizations of initial soil moisture microstates that are all consistent with the same macrostate. As the measures of uncertainty at the plot scale we use the coefficient of variation and the scaled range of simulated vertical bromide transport distances between realizations. At the catchment scale we use similar statistics derived from simulated flood peak discharges. The simulations indicate that at both scales the predictability depends on the average initial soil moisture state and is at a minimum around the soil moisture value where the transition from matrix to macropore flow occurs. The predictability increases with rainfall intensity. The predictability increases with scale with maximum absolute errors of 90 and 32% at the plot scale and the catchment scale, respectively. It is argued that even if we assume perfect knowledge on the processes, the level of detail with which one can measure the initial conditions along with the nonlinearity of the system will set limits to the repeatability of experiments and limits to the predictability of models at the plot and catchment scales.