Bayesian calibration of groundwater models with input data uncertainty

Tianfang Xu, Albert J. Valocchi, Ming Ye, Feng Liang, Yu Feng Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Effective water resources management typically relies on numerical models to analyze groundwater flow and solute transport processes. Groundwater models are often subject to input data uncertainty, as some inputs (such as recharge and well pumping rates) are estimated and subject to uncertainty. Current practices of groundwater model calibration often overlook uncertainties in input data; this can lead to biased parameter estimates and compromised predictions. Through a synthetic case study of surface-ground water interaction under changing pumping conditions and land use, we investigate the impacts of uncertain pumping and recharge rates on model calibration and uncertainty analysis. We then present a Bayesian framework of model calibration to handle uncertain input of groundwater models. The framework implements a marginalizing step to account for input data uncertainty when evaluating likelihood. It was found that not accounting for input uncertainty may lead to biased, overconfident parameter estimates because parameters could be over-adjusted to compensate for possible input data errors. Parameter compensation can have deleterious impacts when the calibrated model is used to make forecast under a scenario that is different from calibration conditions. By marginalizing input data uncertainty, the Bayesian calibration approach effectively alleviates parameter compensation and gives more accurate predictions in the synthetic case study. The marginalizing Bayesian method also decomposes prediction uncertainty into uncertainties contributed by parameters, input data, and measurements. The results underscore the need to account for input uncertainty to better inform postmodeling decision making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3224-3245
Number of pages22
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Bayesian
  • calibration
  • input uncertainty
  • uncertainty quantification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Bayesian calibration of groundwater models with input data uncertainty'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this