Get access

Sensitivity and Uncertainty of Ground-Water Discharge Estimates for Semiarid Shrublands1


  • 1

    Paper No. JAWRA-08-0090-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA). Discussions are open until December 1, 2009.



Abstract:  We proposed a step-by-step approach to quantify the sensitivity of ground-water discharge by evapotranspiration (ET) to three categories of independent input variables. To illustrate the approach, we adopt a basic ground-water discharge estimation model, in which the volume of ground water lost to ET was computed as the product of the ground-water discharge rate and the associated area. The ground-water discharge rate was assumed to equal the ET rate minus local precipitation. The objective of this study is to outline a step-by-step procedure to quantify the contributions from individual independent variable uncertainties to the uncertainty of total ground-water discharge estimates; the independent variables include ET rates of individual ET units, areas associated with the ET units, and precipitation in each subbasin. The specific goal is to guide future characterization efforts by better targeting data collection for those variables most responsible for uncertainty in ground-water discharge estimates. The influential independent variables to be included in the sensitivity analysis are first selected based on the physical characteristics and model structure. Both regression coefficients and standardized regression coefficients for the selected independent variables are calculated using the results from sampling-based Monte Carlo simulations. Results illustrate that, while as many as 630 independent variables potentially contribute to the calculation of the total annual ground-water discharge for the case study area, a selection of seven independent variables could be used to develop an accurate regression model, accounting for more than 96% of the total variance in ground-water discharge. Results indicate that the variability of ET rate for moderately dense desert shrubland contributes to about 75% of the variance in the total ground-water discharge estimates. These results point to a need to better quantify ET rates for moderately dense shrubland to reduce overall uncertainty in estimates of ground-water discharge. While the approach proposed here uses a basic ground-water discharge model taken from an earlier study, the procedure of quantifying uncertainty and sensitivity can be generalized to handle other types of environmental models involving large numbers of independent variables.