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24, chemin de Borde Rouge -Auzeville - CS52627 31326 Castanet Tolosan cedex - France

Last update: May 2021

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AGADAPT - Adapting the water use by the agriculture sector


VIC is a macroscale hydrologic model that solves full water and energy balances, originally developed by Xu Liang at the University of Washington. VIC is a research model and in its various forms it has been applied to regional watersheds and globally.

You can download the PDF version here

Model architecture



Model description


Main processes being represented


The VIC model (Liang et al., 1994) 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
  • An offline routing model (Lohmann et al., 1996) is used to simulate the horizontal water fluxes (water transport from the upstream parts of river basins to the basin outlet)


Process represented : water and energy balances

Space : 0.5° x 0.5°

Time : daily or sub-daily



Description of the inputs


Input Type

Variable identification and metric

Temporal and spatial scale

Default source of data in past

Source of data for future scenarios


Minimum set:


Maximum  air temperature

Minimum  air temperature

Wind speed

Facultative variables:

Convective rainfall
Convective snowfall
Large-scale rainfall
Large-scale snowfall
Incoming long wave radiation
Incoming shortwave radiation

Specific humidity
Relative humidity
Surface albedo
Atmospheric density
Atmospheric pressure

Cloud cover
Vapour pressure
Zonal component of wind speed
Meridional component of wind speed

Incoming channel flow (total volume over the time step)

0.5° x 0.5°,


WATCH forcing data (Weedon et al., 2011)

bias-corrected GCM data (Hagemann et al., 2011)

Land cover

Vegetation class identification number
Root zone thickness
Leaf Area Index

0.5° x 0.5°

University of Maryland landcover dataset  (Hansen et al., 2000)



Number of moisture layers used by the model
Number of thermal solution nodes in the soil column

Variable infiltration curve parameter
Fraction of Dsmax where non-linear baseflow begins
Maximum velocity of baseflow

0.5° x 0.5°

FAO soil map combined with WISE (World Inventory of Soil emission Potentials) (FAO-WISE)  pedon database by Batjes (1995)



Description of the outputs


Land-atmosphere fluxes, and the water and energy balances at the land surface


Saturated Area Fraction
Lake surface area as fraction of grid cell area
Root zone soil moisture
Fractional area of snow cover
Base flow out of the bottom layer
Net evaporation from bare soil
Surface runoff
Average surface albedo
Net heat flux into ground
Net downward shortwave flux
Air temperature
Cloud fraction


Input / output visualization tools


A few generic Splus scripts (which can also be run in R) have been developed to allow the user to quickly plot VIC model output.

The main script compares the default output files (including fluxes, snow, and any other default output fields depending on global parameter settings) from two model runs, with time series plots of the data, time series plots of the differences, and scatter plots. These scripts produce multi-page postscript-format plots.



Condition of access to the model code

Source code of VIC and routing model can be downloaded from the VIC-website.



Gao, H., Q. Tang, X. Shi, C. Zhu, T. J. Bohn, F. Su, J. Sheffield, M. Pan, D. P. Lettenmaier, and E. F. Wood, 2010: Water Budget Record from Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) Model. In Algorithm Theoretical Basis Document for Terrestrial Water Cycle Data Records (in review).

Lohmann D, NolteHolube R, Raschke E (1996) A large-scale horizontal routing model to be coupled to land surface parametrization schemes. Tellus Series a-Dynamic Meteorology and Oceanography 48:708-721.



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