Uncertainty analysis at large scales: limitations and subjectivity of current practices--a water quality case study

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Journal: Water Sci Technol 2007/09/28
Published: 2007
Authors: Bijlsma, R. M.;Groenendijk, P.;Blind, M. W.;Hoekstra, A. Y.
Address: Department of Water Engineering & Management, University of Twente, PO Box 217, 7500, AE, Enschede, The Netherlands. r.m.bijlsma@utwente.nl

Uncertainty analysis for large-scale model studies is a challenging activity that requires a different approach to uncertainty analysis at a smaller scale. However, in river basin studies, the practice of uncertainty analysis at a large scale is mostly derived from practice at a small scale. The limitations and inherent subjectivity of some current practices and assumptions are identified, based on the results of a quantitative uncertainty analysis exploring the effects of input data and parameter uncertainty on surface water nutrient concentration. We show that: (i) although the results from small- scale sensitivity analysis are often applied at larger scales, this is not always valid; (ii) the current restriction of the uncertainty assessment to uncertainty types with a strong evidence base gives structurally conservative estimates; (iii) uncertainty due to bias is usually not assessed, but it may easily outweigh the effects of variability; (iv) the uncertainty bandwidth may increase for higher aggregation levels, although the opposite is the standard assumption.

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