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The VIC model is a large-scale, semi-distributed hydrologic model. As such, it shares several basic features with the other land surface models (LSMs) that are commonly coupled to global circulation models (GCMs):
The land surface is modelled as a grid of large (>1km), flat, uniform cells
Sub-grid heterogeneity (e.g. elevation, land cover) is handled via statistical distributions.
Inputs are time series of daily or sub-daily meteorological drivers (e.g. precipitation, air temperature, wind speed).
Land-atmosphere fluxes, and the water and energy balances at the land surface, are simulated at a daily or sub-daily time step
Water can only enter a grid cell via the atmosphere
Non-channel flow between grid cells is ignored
The portions of surface and subsurface runoff that reach the local channel network within a grid cell are assumed to be >> the portions that cross grid cell boundaries into neighboring cells
Once water reaches the channel network, it is assumed to stay in the channel (it cannot flow back into the soil)
This last point has several consequences for VIC model implementation:
Grid cells are simulated independently of each other
Entire simulation is run for each grid cell separately, 1 grid cell at a time, rather than, for each time step, looping over all grid cells
Meteorological input data for each grid cell (for the entire simulation period) are read from a file specific to that grid cell
Time series of output variables for each grid cell (for the entire simulation period) are stored in files specific to that grid cell
Routing of stream flow is performed separately from the land surface simulation, using a separate model (typically the routing model of Lohmann et al., 1996 and 1998)
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