Does increased hydrochemical model complexity decrease robustness?

Autores UPV
Revista Journal of Hydrology


The aim of this study was, within a sensitivity analysis framework, to determine if additional model complexity gives a better capability to model the hydrology and nitrogen dynamics of a small Mediterranean forested catchment or if the additional parameters cause over-fitting. Three nitrogen-models of varying hydrological complexity were considered. For each model, general sensitivity analysis (GSA) and Generalized Likelihood Uncertainty Estimation (GLUE) were applied, each based on 100,000 Monte Carlo simulations. The results highlighted the most complex structure as the most appropriate, providing the best representation of the non-linear patterns observed in the flow and streamwater nitrate concentrations between 1999 and 2002. Its 5% and 95% GLUE bounds, obtained considering a multi-objective approach, provide the narrowest band for streamwater nitrogen, which suggests increased model robustness, though all models exhibit periods of inconsistent good and poor fits between simulated outcomes and observed data. The results confirm the importance of the riparian zone in controlling the short-term (daily) streamwater nitrogen dynamics in this catchment but not the overall flux of nitrogen from the catchment. It was also shown that as the complexity of a hydrological model increases over-parameterisation occurs, but the converse is true for a water quality model where additional process representation leads to additional acceptable model simulations. Water quality data help constrain the hydrological representation in process-based models. Increased complexity was justifiable for modelling river-system hydrochemistry. Increased complexity was justifiable for modelling river-system hydrochemistry.