Systems Analysis, Integrated Assessment and Modelling
In SIAM, we develop and apply models and formal techniques in order to understand, demonstrate, and predict the behavior of natural, technical, social and economical systems that pertain to water and other natural resources. Read more
Towards a comprehensive uncertainty assessment in environmental research and decision support
Uncertainty quantification is very important in environmental management to allow decision makers to consider the reliability of predictions of the consequences of decision alternatives and relate them to their risk attitudes and the uncertainty about their preferences. Nevertheless, uncertainty quantification in environmental decision support is often incomplete and the robustness of the results regarding assumptions made for uncertainty quantification is often not investigated. In this article, an attempt is made to demonstrate how uncertainty can be considered more comprehensively in environmental research and decision support by combining well-established with rarely applied statistical techniques. In particular, the following elements of uncertainty quantification are discussed: (i) using stochastic, mechanistic models that consider and propagate uncertainties from their origin to the output; (ii) profiting from the support of modern techniques of data science to increase the diversity of the exploration process, to benchmark mechanistic models, and to find new relationships; (iii) analysing structural alternatives by multi-model and non-parametric approaches; (iv) quantitatively formulating and using societal preferences in decision support; (v) explicitly considering the uncertainty of elicited preferences in addition to the uncertainty of predictions in decision support; and (vi) explicitly considering the ambiguity about prior distributions for predictions and preferences by using imprecise probabilities. In particular, (v) and (vi) have mostly been ignored in the past and a guideline is provided on how these uncertainties can be considered without significantly increasing the computational burden. The methodological approach to (v) and (vi) is based on expected expected utility theory, which extends expected utility theory to the consideration of uncertain preferences, and on imprecise, intersubjective Bayesian probabilities.
Understanding dominant controls on streamflow spatial variability to set up a semi-distributed hydrological model: the case study of the Thur catchment
This study documents the development of a semi-distributed hydrological model aimed at reflecting the dominant controls on observed streamflow spatial variability. The process is presented through the case study of the Thur catchment (Switzerland, 1702 km2), an alpine and pre-alpine catchment where streamflow (measured at 10 subcatchments) has different spatial characteristics in terms of amounts, seasonal patterns, and dominance of baseflow. In order to appraise the dominant controls on streamflow spatial variability and build a model that reflects them, we follow a two-stage approach. In a first stage, we identify the main climatic or landscape properties that control the spatial variability of streamflow signatures. This stage is based on correlation analysis, complemented by expert judgement to identify the most plausible cause–effect relationships. In a second stage, the results of the previous analysis are used to develop a set of model experiments aimed at determining an appropriate model representation of the Thur catchment. These experiments confirm that only a hydrological model that accounts for the heterogeneity of precipitation, snow-related processes, and landscape features such as geology produces hydrographs that have signatures similar to the observed ones. This model provides consistent results in space–time validation, which is promising for predictions in ungauged basins. The presented methodology for model building can be transferred to other case studies, since the data used in this work (meteorological variables, streamflow, morphology, and geology maps) are available in numerous regions around the globe.
Dal Molin, M.; Schirmer, M.; Zappa, M.; Fenicia, F. (2020) Understanding dominant controls on streamflow spatial variability to set up a semi-distributed hydrological model: the case study of the Thur catchment, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 24(3), 1319-1345, doi:10.5194/hess-24-1319-2020, Institutional Repository
Towards an integrated surface water quality assessment: aggregation over multiple pollutants and time
Surface water quality management requires foresighted decision making regarding long-term investments. It should consider multiple objectives (e.g. related to different pollutants and costs), integrate multiple sources of pollution (point and diffuse sources), and external conditions that change over time (climate, population and land-use changes). Multi-attribute value theory can support such decisions, especially the development of an assessment method. Integrated surface water quality assessment methods including micropollutants are currently lacking or in development in many countries. Important steps for the development of such an immission oriented and integrated surface water quality assessment method are discussed in this paper and exemplified for organic micropollutants. The proposed assessment method goes beyond simple pass-fail criteria for single substances. It provides a continuous assessment on a scale from zero to one based on five color-coded water quality classes and suggestions for the visualization of assessment results. It takes into account the toxicity of the micropollutants and their mixture to aquatic organisms by comparing measured concentrations to environmental quality standards (EQS). The focus of this paper is on aggregation over multiple substances and time. Advantages and disadvantages of different aggregation methods are discussed as well as their implications for practice. The consequences of different aggregation methods are illustrated with didactical examples and by an application of the proposed water quality assessment method to pesticide monitoring data from Switzerland. Recommendations are provided that account for the purpose of the assessment. Furthermore, the paper illustrates how the proposed method can facilitate dealing with uncertainty and a transparent communication of monitoring results to support water quality management decisions.
Effects of site selection and taxonomic resolution on the inference of stream invertebrate responses to environmental conditions
Key decisions in the design of biomonitoring programs include taxonomic resolution, geographic extent, and site selection, each of which can affect our ability to infer human impacts on biodiversity from biomonitoring data. These decisions are constrained by monitoring goals and budget limitations, which may require trade-offs between them. In this study, we use species distribution models (SDMs) to assess the effects of key decisions in biomonitoring design on our ability to infer the effects of natural and anthropogenic environmental conditions on the occurrence of benthic macroinvertebrates in streams. We compared 4 datasets that differ in their site-selection strategy, geographic extent, and taxonomic resolution using data from Swiss federal and cantonal biomonitoring programs. We used individual SDMs with 3-fold cross validation to identify the environmental variables that best predict the probability of taxa occurrence across the datasets. We then used a hierarchical multi-species distribution model (hmSDM) to identify how key aspects of biomonitoring design influence the relative importance of the selected explanatory (predictor) variables in the model as well as the model’s predictive performance. The relative importance of the explanatory variables in the hmSDMs was lowest for the dataset with a grid-based site-selection approach and family-level resolution. An increase in predictive performance was achieved by either using a species-level taxonomic resolution for Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera or by combining different biomonitoring programs at the family level to increase the number of sites and improve the coverage of environmental conditions. Selecting monitoring sites to provide a good coverage of environmental conditions, while also targeting sites with rare combinations of environmental conditions, could further improve biomonitoring program data. Models based on finer taxonomic resolution revealed that widespread families consist of species and genera with different and stronger responses to environmental conditions. However, many families include species that are too rare to allow inference of significant responses to environmental conditions. We show that hmSDMs of stream invertebrates can contribute to the selection of specific taxa for identification at finer taxonomic resolution. This strategy could facilitate the standardization and combination of multiple biomonitoring datasets and improve the identifiability of stream invertebrate responses to environmental conditions in biomonitoring programs.
Caradima, B.; Reichert, P.; Schuwirth, N. (2020) Effects of site selection and taxonomic resolution on the inference of stream invertebrate responses to environmental conditions, Freshwater Science, 39(3), 415-432, doi:10.1086/709024, Institutional Repository
Global phosphorus losses from croplands under future precipitation scenarios
Phosphorus (P) losses from fertilized croplands to inland water bodies cause serious environmental problems. During wet years, high precipitation disproportionately contributes to P losses. We combine simulations of a gridded crop model and outputs from a number of hydrological and climate models to assess global impacts of changes in precipitation regimes on P losses during the 21st century. Under the baseline climate during 1991-2010, median P losses are 2.7 ± 0.5 kg P ha-1 year-1 over global croplands of four major crops, while during wet years, P losses are 3.6 ± 0.7 kg P ha-1 year–1. By the end of this century, P losses in wet years would reach 4.2 ± 1.0 (RCP2.6) and 4.7 ± 1.3 (RCP8.5) kg P ha-1 year-1 due to increases in high annual precipitation alone. The increases in P losses are the highest (up to 200%) in the arid regions of Middle East, Central Asia, and northern Africa. Consequently, in three quarters of the world’s river basins, representing about 40% of total global runoff and home up to 7 billion people, P dilution capacity of freshwater could be exceeded due to P losses from croplands by the end of this century.
Since spring 2018, the newly developed underwater camera Aquascope has been recording a wide variety of plankton species in Lake Greifen. These sensitive organisms can thus, for the first time, be observed undisturbed in their natural habitat – an important step towards automated monitoring of water quality and aquatic biodiversity.