Assessing the Role of Parameter and Input Uncertainty in Ecohydrologic Modeling: Implications for a Semi-arid and Urbanizing Coastal California Catchment
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Ecohydrologic models are a key tool in understanding plant–water interactions and their vulnerability to environmental change. Although implications of uncertainty in these models are often assessed within a strictly hydrologic context (for example, runoff modeling), the implications of uncertainty for estimation of vegetation water use are less frequently considered. We assess the influence of commonly used model parameters and inputs on predictions of catchment-scale evapotranspiration (ET) and runoff. By clarifying the implications of uncertainty, we identify strategies for insuring that the quality of data used to drive models is considered in interpretation of model predictions. Our assessment also provides insight into unique features of semi-arid, urbanizing watersheds that shape ET patterns. We consider four sources of uncertainty: soil parameters, irrigation inputs, and spatial extrapolation of both point precipitation and air temperature for an urbanizing, semi-arid coastal catchment in Santa Barbara, CA. Our results highlight a seasonal transition from soil parameters to irrigation inputs as key controls on ET. Both ET and runoff show substantial sensitivity to uncertainty in soil parameters, even after parameters have been calibrated against observed streamflow. Sensitivity to uncertainty in precipitation manifested primarily in winter runoff predictions, whereas sensitivity to irrigation manifested exclusively in modeled summer ET. Neither ET nor runoff was highly sensitive to uncertainty in spatial interpolation of temperature. Results argue that efforts to improve ecohydrologic modeling of vegetation water use and associated water-limited ecological processes in these semi-arid regions should focus on improving estimates of anthropogenic outdoor water use and explicit accounting of soil parameter uncertainty.
KeywordsEcohydrology Modeling Urban ecology Plant–water interactions Semiarid Sensitivity analysis
This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and by the Santa Barbara Coastal Long-Term Ecological Research project, funded by the National Science Foundation (OCE-9982105 and OCE-0620276). We thank the two anonymous reviewers whose extensive and thoughtful comments greatly contributed to the quality of the final manuscript.
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