Equifinality and flux mapping: a new approach to model evaluation and process representation under uncertainty

Sina Khatami, Murray C. Peel, Tim J. Peterson, Andrew W. Western

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Uncertainty analysis is an integral part of any scientific modeling, particularly within the domain of hydrological sciences given the various types and sources of uncertainty. At the center of uncertainty rests the concept of equifinality, that is, reaching a given endpoint (finality) through different pathways. The operational definition of equifinality in hydrological modeling is that various model structures and/or parameter sets (i.e., equal pathways) are equally capable of reproducing a similar (not necessarily identical) hydrological outcome (i.e., finality). Here we argue that there is more to model equifinality than model structures/parameters, that is, other model components can give rise to model equifinality and/or could be used to explore equifinality within model space. We identified six facets of model equifinality, namely, model structure, parameters, performance metrics, initial and boundary conditions, inputs, and internal fluxes. Focusing on model internal fluxes, we developed a methodology called flux mapping that has fundamental implications in understanding and evaluating model process representation within the paradigm of multiple working hypotheses. To illustrate this, we examine the equifinality of runoff fluxes of a conceptual rainfall-runoff model for a number of different Australian catchments. We demonstrate how flux maps can give new insights into the model behavior that cannot be captured by conventional model evaluation methods. We discuss the advantages of flux space, as a subspace of the model space not usually examined, over parameter space. We further discuss the utility of flux mapping in hypothesis generation and testing, extendable to any field of scientific modeling of open complex systems under uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8922-8941
Number of pages20
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume55
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • equifinality
  • hydrological systems
  • modeling philosophy
  • open complex systems
  • scientific modeling and model evaluation
  • uncertainty

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