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Are current dynamic water quality models too complex? A comparison of a new parsimonious phosphorus model, SimplyP, and INCA-P

Jackson-Blake, L. A., Sample, J. E., Wade, A., Helliwell, R. C. and Skeffington, R. (2017) Are current dynamic water quality models too complex? A comparison of a new parsimonious phosphorus model, SimplyP, and INCA-P. Water Resources Research, 53 (7). pp. 5382-5399. ISSN 0043-1397

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1002/2016WR020132

Abstract/Summary

Catchment-scale water quality models are becoming increasingly popular tools for exploring the potential effects of land management, land use change and climate change on water quality. However, the dynamic, catchment-scale nutrient models in common usage are complex, with many uncertain parameters requiring calibration, limiting their usability and robustness. A key question is whether this complexity is justified. To explore this, we have developed a parsimonious P model, SimplyP, incorporating a coupled rainfall-runoff model and a biogeochemical model able to simulate streamflow, suspended sediment, particulate and dissolved P dynamics. The model’s complexity is compared in a small rural catchment in northeast Scotland. For three land use classes, less than six SimplyP model parameters must be determined through calibration alone, the rest may be based on measurements; INCA-P has around 40 unmeasurable parameters. Despite simpler process-representation, SimplyP produced a slightly better dissolved P simulation during both calibration and validation, and produced similar long-term projections in response to changes in land management. Results support the hypothesis that INCA-P is overly complex for the study catchment. We hope our findings will help prompt wider model comparison exercises, as well as debate amongst the water quality modelling community as to whether today's models are fit for purpose. Simpler models such as SimplyP have the potential to be useful management and research tools, building blocks for future model development (prototype code is freely available), or benchmarks against which more complex models could be evaluated.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
ID Code:70476
Publisher:American Geophysical Union

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