Title: Sensitivity Analysis of Prior Model Probabilities and the Value of Prior Knowledge in the Assessment of Conceptual Model Uncertainty in Groundwater Modelling
Citation: HYDROLOGICAL PROCESSES vol. 23 no. 8 p. 1131-1146
Publication Year: 2009
JRC N°: JRC55889
ISSN: 0885-6087
URI: http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC55889
DOI: 10.1002/hyp.7231
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: A key point in the application of multi-model Bayesian averaging techniques to assess the predictive uncertainty in groundwater modelling applications is the definition of prior model probabilities, which reflect the prior perception about the plausibility of alternative models. In this work the influence of prior knowledge and prior model probabilities on posterior model probabilities, multi-model predictions, and conceptual model uncertainty estimations is analysed. The sensitivity to prior model probabilities is assessed using an extensive numerical analysis in which the prior probability space of a set of plausible conceptualizations is discretized to obtain a large ensemble of possible combinations of prior model probabilities. Additionally, the value of prior knowledge about alternative models in reducing conceptual model uncertainty is assessed by considering three example knowledge states, expressed as quantitative relations among the alternative models. A constrained maximum entropy approach is used to find the set of prior model probabilities that correspond to the different prior knowledge states. For illustrative purposes, a three-dimensional hypothetical setup approximated by seven alternative conceptual models is employed. Results show that posterior model probabilities, leading moments of the predictive distributions and estimations of conceptual model uncertainty are very sensitive to prior model probabilities, indicating the relevance of selecting proper prior probabilities. Additionally, including proper prior knowledge improves the predictive performance of the multi-model approach, expressed by reductions of the multi-model prediction variances by up to 60% compared with a non-informative case. However, the ratio between-model to total variance does not substantially decrease. This suggests that the contribution of conceptual model uncertainty to the total variance cannot be further reduced based only on prior knowledge about the plausibility of alternative models. These results advocate including proper prior knowledge about alternative conceptualizations in combination with extra conditioning data to further reduce conceptual model uncertainty in groundwater modelling predictions.
JRC Directorate:Sustainable Resources

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