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The Influence of Model Structure Uncertainty on Water Quality Assessment


Physically-based mathematical water quality models are known as potentially effective tools to simulate the temporal and spatial variations of water quality variables along rivers. Each model relies on specific sets of assumptions and equations to simulate the physico-biochemical processes, which influence on its simulation results. This paper aims to improve the insight in the uncertainties related to state–of–the–art river physico-biochemical water quality modelling. Sensitivity analysis is applied to the processes implemented in three most popular commercial software packages: MIKE11, InfoWorks RS and InfoWorks ICM. This is done for the Molse Neet river case study. Firstly, the physico-biochemical processes are screened to obtain a preliminary assessment on the critical processes and to determine the processes that require more detailed comparison. Then, local sensitivity analysis is carried out to specify the sensitive parameters and processes. Results show that the hydrodynamic results, heat transfer rate and reaeration simulations cause large differences in model simulation outputs for water temperature and dissolved oxygen concentrations. The ignorance of processes related to sediment transport, phytoplankton and bacteria has a significant influence on the higher values of organic matter and lower values of dissolved oxygen concentrations. The three models show consensus on the main pollutant sources explaining organic matter and nitrate concentrations, but disagree on the main factors explaining the DO concentrations.

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This study has been made possible by a doctoral scholarship by the KU Leuven Interfaculty council for Development Co-operation (IRO). The Province of Antwerp and the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) are gratefully acknowledged for providing the initial hydrological and hydrodynamic river models, the measurement data on cross-sections, structures and water quality along the rivers in the Molse Neet catchment. Finally, DHI Water & Environment and Innovyze are responsively acknowledged for the provision of the license for the MIKE11, InfoWorks RS and ICM software packages, respectively.

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Correspondence to Thanh Thuy Nguyen.


Appendix 1

Table 4 Biochemical transformation processes and equations in RS/ICM and MIKE 11

Appendix 2

Table 5 Parameter values in the initial RS, ICM and MIKE 11 simulations

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Nguyen, T.T., Willems, P. The Influence of Model Structure Uncertainty on Water Quality Assessment. Water Resour Manage 30, 3043–3061 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-016-1330-x

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  • InfoWorks ICM
  • InfoWorks RS
  • MIKE11
  • Model structure uncertainty
  • River water quality model
  • Sensitivity analysis