A Bayesian approach to model structural error and input variability in groundwater modeling

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Effective water resource management typically relies on numerical models to analyze groundwater flow and solute transport processes. Model structural error (due to simplification and/or misrepresentation of the "true" environmental system) and input forcing variability (which commonly arises since some inputs are uncontrolled or estimated with high uncertainty) are ubiquitous in groundwater models. Calibration that overlooks errors in model structure and input data can lead to biased parameter estimates and compromised predictions. We present a fully Bayesian approach for a complete assessment of uncertainty for spatially distributed groundwater models. The approach explicitly recognizes stochastic input and uses data-driven error models based on nonparametric kernel methods to account for model structural error. We employ exploratory data analysis to assist in specifying informative prior for error models to improve identifiability. The inference is facilitated by an efficient sampling algorithm based on DREAM-ZS and a parameter subspace multiple-try strategy to reduce the required number of forward simulations of the groundwater model. We demonstrate the Bayesian approach through a synthetic case study of surface-ground water interaction under changing pumping conditions. It is found that explicit treatment of errors in model structure and input data (groundwater pumping rate) has substantial impact on the posterior distribution of groundwater model parameters. Using error models reduces predictive bias caused by parameter compensation. In addition, input variability increases parametric and predictive uncertainty. The Bayesian approach allows for a comparison among the contributions from various error sources, which could inform future model improvement and data collection efforts on how to best direct resources towards reducing predictive uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAGU 2015 fall meeting
StatePublished - Dec 17 2015


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