Satellite remote sensing provides useful gridded data for the conceptual modelling of hydrological processes such as precipitation–runoff relationship. Structurally flexible and computationally advanced AI-assisted data-driven (DD) models foster these applications. However, without linking concepts between variables from many grids, the DD models can be too large to be calibrated efficiently. Therefore, effectively formulized, collective input variables and robust verification of the calibrated models are desired to leverage satellite data for the strategic DD modelling of catchment runoff. This study formulates new satellite-based input variables, namely, catchment- and event-specific areal precipitation coverage ratios (CCOVs and ECOVs, respectively) from the Global Precipitation Mission (GPM) and evaluates their usefulness for monthly runoff modelling from five mountainous Karkheh sub-catchments of 5000–43,000 km2 size in west Iran. Accordingly, 12 different input combinations from GPM and MODIS products were introduced to a generalized deep learning scheme using artificial neural networks (ANNs). Using an adjusted five-fold cross-validation process, 420 different ANN configurations per fold choice and 10 different random initial parameterizations per configuration were tested. Runoff estimates from five hybrid models, each an average of six top-ranked ANNs based on six statistical criteria in calibration, indicated obvious improvements for all sub-catchments using the new variables. Particularly, ECOVs were most efficient for the most challenging sub-catchment, Kashkan, having the highest spacetime precipitation variability. However, better performance criteria were found for sub-catchments with lower precipitation variability. The modelling performance for Kashkan indicated a higher dependency on data partitioning, suggesting that long-term data representativity is important for modelling reliability.
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