Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) Model

Purpose: Models river discharge in a river basin
Developer: University of Washington
Key Features: Water and energy balance; Semi-distributed gridded model; Capable of integrating point- and grid- meteorological inputs; Open-source
Latest Release: Version 4.2.b, January 2015
OS Platform: Linux and UNIX
Cost: Free
Website: VIC home page


The VIC model, first developed in 1994, is a macroscale hydrologic model used to solve full water and energy balances. In addition to hydrologic processes, VIC models land-surface interactions and flow routing. The model simulates land-atmospheric fluxes, and water and energy balances on the land for each grid independently, and then routes estimated surface flows and base flows to produce streamflows from the network of grids. The model can be used for a variety of applications, for example, streamflow simulation and forecasting, water and energy balance calculations, reservoir water management, and climate change studies. The VIC model has been applied to most major river basins around the world. Key features of the VIC model is its open source availability, and its ability to perform studies on a continental scale. Most of the VIC model has been written in C, except for the flow routing model, which was written in Fortran 77. The model is not memory-intensive, but very input/output intensive. The source code is publicly available.

Advantages and Limitations

Advantages Limitations
  • Can be run at various time intervals
  • Sub-grid heterogeneity is represented statistically
  • Open-source status allows user to modify the source code as per project requirements
  • Availability of tools and scripts to manipulate model data in multiple ways
  • Availability of global data sets for model inputs and parameters
  • Detailed technical report and users' manual
  • Not supported for Microsoft Windows operating system
  • Cannot process geospatial data
  • Each grid cell is treated independently except for routing
  • Not applicable for small watersheds

Illustrative Screens

Sample Applications

Africa East Asia and the Pacific Europe & Central Asia Latin America & the Caribbean Middle East and North Africa South Asia
African flood and drought monitor Hydrologic response to land use and land cover changes ARAL-DIF Amazon-DIF Experimental near-real time hydrologic fluxes, India

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