Linking urban water balance & energy balance models to analyse urban design options

Grace Mitchell, Helen Cleugh, CSB Grimmond, J Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Citations (Scopus)


Using a water balance modelling framework, this paper analyses the effects of urban design on the water balance, with a focus on evapotranspiration and storm water. First, two quite different urban water balance models are compared: Aquacycle which has been calibrated for a suburban catchment in Canberra, Australia, and the single-source urban evapotranspiration-interception scheme (SUES), an energy-based approach with a biophysically advanced representation of interception and evapotranspiration. A fair agreement between the two modelled estimates of evapotranspiration was significantly improved by allowing the vegetation cover (leaf area index, LAI) to vary seasonally, demonstrating the potential of SUES to quantify the links between water sensitive urban design and microclimates and the advantage of comparing the two modelling approaches. The comparison also revealed where improvements to SUES are needed, chiefly through improved estimates of vegetation cover dynamics as input to SUES, and more rigorous parameterization of the surface resistance equations using local-scale suburban flux measurements. Second, Aquacycle is used to identify the impact of an array of water sensitive urban design features on the water balance terms. This analysis confirms the potential to passively control urban microclimate by suburban design features that maximize evapotranspiration, such as vegetated roofs. The subsequent effects on daily maximum air temperatures are estimated using an atmospheric boundary layer budget. Potential energy savings of about 2% in summer cooling are estimated from this analysis. This is a clear ‘return on investment’ of using water to maintain urban greenspace, whether as parks distributed throughout an urban area or individual gardens or vegetated roofs. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2891 - 2900
Number of pages10
JournalHydrological processes
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008


  • urban water balance
  • evaporation
  • urban energy balance
  • water sustainability
  • urban climate


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