Does the Budyko curve reflect a maximum-power state of hydrological systems? A backward analysis

M. Westhoff*, E. Zehe, Pierre Archambeau, B. Dewals

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Almost all catchments plot within a small envelope around the Budyko curve. This apparent behaviour suggests that organizing principles may play a role in the evolution of catchments. In this paper we applied the thermodynamic principle of maximum power as the organizing principle. In a top-down approach we derived mathematical formulations of the relation between relative wetness and gradients driving run-off and evaporation for a simple one-box model. We did this in an inverse manner such that, when the conductances are optimized with the maximum-power principle, the steady-state behaviour of the model leads exactly to a point on the asymptotes of the Budyko curve. Subsequently, we added dynamics in forcing and actual evaporation, causing the Budyko curve to deviate from the asymptotes. Despite the simplicity of the model, catchment observations compare reasonably well with the Budyko curves subject to observed dynamics in rainfall and actual evaporation. Thus by constraining the model that has been optimized with the maximum-power principle with the asymptotes of the Budyko curve, we were able to derive more realistic values of the aridity and evaporation index without any parameter calibration. Future work should focus on better representing the boundary conditions of real catchments and eventually adding more complexity to the model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-486
Number of pages8
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'Does the Budyko curve reflect a maximum-power state of hydrological systems? A backward analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this