Using the wflow modelbuilder

wflow modelbuilder tutorial



The wflow modelbuilder is a new tool with which you can set up a wflow model in a few simple steps. The default setup of the wflow modelbuilder is fully based on global data sets. The modelbuilder uses a set of tools called hydro-engine (, which are built on top of Google Earth Engine (


The wflow modelbuilder is part of the standard wflow distribution.

You can download the wflow source code from (follow the wflow installation instructions). In due time the wflow modelbuilder will also be available as an executable and you will only have to download the wflow executables.

Set up a wflow model

Once you have downloaded and installed wflow, the modelbuilder is available in this location:


You can run the modelbuilder script from the command line or in a batch file. The script uses the settings.json file for the location of the model. To run the modelbuilder script with python, use the following command:

python --geojson-path settings.json

The settings.json file must be present. The modelbuilder comes with a default settings.json file. Its contents look like this:

  "type": "FeatureCollection",
  "features": [
          "type": "Feature",
          "properties": {},
          "geometry": {
                "type": "Point",
                "coordinates": [

In this default settings.json a set of point coordinates is specified; the coordinates in the example are for the Moselle catchment in Germany, a tributary of the Rhine river. To make your own settings.json file, you can use the website This is a website that can be used to easily select a location and create your own settings.json file. Alternatively, you can change the coordinates in the default settings.json file. This settings.json must be present for the modelbuilder to know the location of the model.

Furthermore you can specify the following options:

--geojson-path          Path to a GeoJSON file with the geometry that needs to be path of the model

--cellsize              Desired model cell size in decimal degrees (default=0.01)

--name                  Name of the wflow case (default=wflow_<modelconcept>_case)

--model                 Name of the wflow model concept (options: sbm, hbv, w3ra)(default=sbm)

--timestep              Model time step for hbv (options: hourly, daily) (default=daily)

--case-template         Name of the template wflow case (default=wflow_<modelconcept>_template)

--case-path             Path where both the template and created case reside(default is the current directory)

--fews/--no-fews        Flag indicating whether the wflow case is part of a Delft-FEWS setup (default=no-fews)

--fews-config-path      Path to the Delft-FEWS config directory (to save default FEWS states) (default=Config)

--dem-path              Path to a local DEM if available

--river-path            Path to a local river shapefile if available

--region-filter         Tell hydro-engine which model area to pick, by default this is everything upstream of the provided geometry, but it is also possible to get only the current catchment (catchments-intersection), or just exactly the provided geometry (region), like your own catchment polygon (options: catchments-upstream, catchments-intersection, region)(default=catchments-upstream)


python --geojson-path settings.json --name wflow_moselle --cellsize 0.01

Run this command from the command line or in a batch file, and you will have your model.

The generated model structure looks like this:


To run the wlfow model, you need the staticmaps and intbl directories and the wflow_sbm.ini file. Also the inmaps and the instate directories are needed to run the model, but these are not filled yet. By default, results of your model run are stored in the run_default directory, and this directory including all its subfolders is required if you run the model within FEWS.

In the mask folder you will find the mask that is used to clip the model, and the grid definition in FEWS format (in grid.xml), which you can copy-paste into the Grids.xml file in your FEWS configuration. In the data folder you will find the data that was used to generate the model, after clipping it from the global data: geojson files for the catchments and rivers, and raster files for the DEM and the parameter maps.

The wflow_sbm.ini file is the file with configuration settings that is needed to run the wflow-sbm model. This is an example file – please change the settings in the ini file according to your specific model setup (see wflow_sbm|hbv.ini file).

Model data

Where does the data come from? This default setup of the wflow modelbuilder is fully based on global data sets. Below you find the specifications of the global data sets used.

Catchment delineation

The clipping of the global maps is done based on the model area. The model area is based on the HydroBASINS subcatchments, level 9 ( The modelbuilder determines within which HydroBASINS subcatchment the coordinates are located that you specified in the settings.json file, and queries all upstream catchments as a single or multiple polygons. These subcatchments together define the area of your model. The data sets described below are all clipped based on this area.


For the river network, the HydroSHEDS drainage network is queried as polylines (

Optionally, a local or improved river vector file (shapefile, geojson, etc.) can be provided to the modelbuilder with the option --river-path. If a local river vector file is specified, this will be used instead of the default global river file.


For the elevation data the digital elevation model (DEM) used is SRTM v4, 30m (

Optionally, a local or improved Digital Elevation Model (DEM) can be provided to the modelbuilder with the option --dem-path. If a local DEM is specified, this will be used instead of the default global DEM.

Land use

For land use the 0.5 km MODIS-based Global Land Cover Climatology map by the USGS Land Cover Institute (LCI) is used ( This land cover dataset consists of 17 different classes for land cover types. The legend for this land cover map is also provided in the template case (and copied to your wflow model) in data/parameters/lulegend.txt


LAI (Leaf Area Index) maps for the wflow-sbm model are stored in the staticmaps/clim directory. These are twelve maps with monthly average LAI, based on combined AVHRR and MODIS data, derived from Liu et al. 2012 [Liu2012], calculated as averages over 1981-2011.

Soil type

A soil map indicating major soil texture types is also downloaded with the modelbuilder (, which is derived from the Harmonized World Soil Database (HWSD) (FAO et al. 2009 [FAO2009]). The legend for this soil dataset is also provided in the template case in data/parameters/wflow_soil.csv. In the current setup with global data, this soil map is not used, since all soil-based parameters are specified as rasters. It can however be useful if you want to differentiate parameters in the intbl directory based on soil type, or if you want add more parameters as .tbl files.

Model parameters

Parameters linked to LAI:

  • Specific leaf storage: determined from Liu 1998 [Liu1998]

  • Storage on the woody part of the vegetation (branch and trunk storage): determined from Liu 1998 [Liu1998]

  • Extinction coefficient: Van Dijk & Bruijnzeel 2001 [VanDijk2001]

Parameters linked to soil and land use:

  • Parameters provided as maps in the staticmaps directory: based on Dai et al. 2013 [Dai2013] and Shangguan et al. 2014 [Shangguan2014]

  • Other parameters provided as intbl files: the parameters that are not specified as rasters, are given in the intbl directory as .tbl files, which can be linked to either land use, soil type or subcatchment (see Input parameters (lookup tables or maps)). For these parameters a default value or values have been established.

It is important to note that with the modelbuilder setup you can easily generate a functioning model, including the model structure and all the rasters and other files you need, resampled to your model resolution. However, this results by no means in a calibrated model. The parameter maps and tables are a best first estimate based on global datasets, but most likely need tweaking for application in a regional- or local-scale model.

Current limitations

At the moment it is only possible to set up a model with the modelbuilder in the WGS84 coordinate system (EPSG:4326).



Dai, Y., W. Shangguan, Q. Duan, B. Liu, S. Fu, G. Niu, 2013. Development of a China Dataset of Soil Hydraulic Parameters Using Pedotransfer Functions for Land Surface Modeling. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 14:869-887.


Dijk, A.I.J.M. van and L.A. Bruijnzeel (2001), Modelling rainfall interception by vegetation of variable density using an adapted analytical model. Part 1. Model description. Journal of Hydrology 247, 230-238.


FAO/IIASA/ISRIC/ISS-CAS/JRC, 2009. Harmonized World Soil Database (version 1.1). FAO, Rome, Italy and IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria.


Liu, S. (1998), Estimation of rainfall storage capacity in the canopies of cypress wetlands and slash pine uplands in North-Central Florida. Journal of Hydrology 207, 32-41.


Liu, Y., R. Liu, and J. M. Chen (2012), Retrospective retrieval of long-term consistent global leaf area index (1981–2011) from combined AVHRR and MODIS data. J. Geophys. Res., 117, G04003, doi:10.1029/2012JG002084.


Shangguan, W., Dai, Y., Duan, Q., Liu, B. and Yuan, H., 2014. A Global Soil Data Set for Earth System Modeling. Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, 6: 249-263.