Over-parameterised, uncertain 'mathematical marionettes' - How can we best use catchment water quality models? An example of an 80-year catchment-scale nutrient balance
Wade, A. J., Jackson, B. M. and Butterfield, D. (2008) Over-parameterised, uncertain 'mathematical marionettes' - How can we best use catchment water quality models? An example of an 80-year catchment-scale nutrient balance. Science of the Total Environment, 400 (1-3). pp. 52-74. ISSN 0048-9697
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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.04.030
The Integrated Catchment Model of Nitrogen (INCA-N) was applied to the River Lambourn, a Chalk river-system in southern England. The model's abilities to simulate the long-term trend and seasonal patterns in observed stream water nitrate concentrations from 1920 to 2003 were tested. This is the first time a semi-distributed, daily time-step model has been applied to simulate such a long time period and then used to calculate detailed catchment nutrient budgets which span the conversion of pasture to arable during the late 1930s and 1940s. Thus, this work goes beyond source apportionment and looks to demonstrate how such simulations can be used to assess the state of the catchment and develop an understanding of system behaviour. The mass-balance results from 1921, 1922, 1991, 2001 and 2002 are presented and those for 1991 are compared to other modelled and literature values of loads associated with nitrogen soil processes and export. The variations highlighted the problem of comparing modelled fluxes with point measurements but proved useful for identifying the most poorly understood inputs and processes thereby providing an assessment of input data and model structural uncertainty. The modelled terrestrial and instream mass-balances also highlight the importance of the hydrological conditions in pollutant transport. Between 1922 and 2002, increased inputs of nitrogen from fertiliser, livestock and deposition have altered the nitrogen balance with a shift from possible reduction in soil fertility but little environmental impact in 1922, to a situation of nitrogen accumulation in the soil, groundwater and instream biota in 2002. In 1922 and 2002 it was estimated that approximately 2 and 18 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1) respectively were exported from the land to the stream. The utility of the approach and further considerations for the best use of models are discussed. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.