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Model parameter uncertainty analysis for an annual field-scale P loss model

Carl H. Bolster, Peter A. Vadas, Debbie Boykin
Journal of hydrology 2016 v.539 pp. 27-37
agricultural management, climatic factors, conservation practices, data collection, equations, fate and transport models, leaching, losses from soil, model uncertainty, parameter uncertainty, phosphorus, phosphorus fertilizers, prediction, runoff, uncertainty analysis
Phosphorous (P) fate and transport models are important tools for developing and evaluating conservation practices aimed at reducing P losses from agricultural fields. Because all models are simplifications of complex systems, there will exist an inherent amount of uncertainty associated with their predictions. It is therefore important that efforts be directed at identifying, quantifying, and communicating the different sources of model uncertainties. In this study, we conducted an uncertainty analysis with the Annual P Loss Estimator (APLE) model. Our analysis included calculating parameter uncertainties and confidence and prediction intervals for five internal regression equations in APLE. We also estimated uncertainties of the model input variables based on values reported in the literature. We then predicted P loss for a suite of fields under different management and climatic conditions while accounting for uncertainties in the model parameters and inputs and compared the relative contributions of these two sources of uncertainty to the overall uncertainty associated with predictions of P loss. Both the overall magnitude of the prediction uncertainties and the relative contributions of the two sources of uncertainty varied depending on management practices and field characteristics. This was due to differences in the number of model input variables and the uncertainties in the regression equations associated with each P loss pathway. Inspection of the uncertainties in the five regression equations brought attention to a previously unrecognized limitation with the equation used to partition surface-applied fertilizer P between leaching and runoff losses. As a result, an alternate equation was identified that provided similar predictions with much less uncertainty. Our results demonstrate how a thorough uncertainty and model residual analysis can be used to identify limitations with a model. Such insight can then be used to guide future data collection and model development and evaluation efforts.