Hydrogeological Bayesian hypothesis testing through trans-dimensional sampling of a stochastic water balance model

Trine Enemark, Luk J.M. Peeters, Dirk Mallants, Okke Batelaan, Andrew P. Valentine, Malcolm Sambridge

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7 Citations (Scopus)
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Conceptual uncertainty is considered one of the major sources of uncertainty in groundwater flow modelling. In this regard, hypothesis testing is essential to increase system understanding by refuting alternative conceptual models. Often a stepwise approach, with respect to complexity, is promoted but hypothesis testing of simple groundwater models is rarely applied. We present an approach to model-based Bayesian hypothesis testing in a simple groundwater balance model, which involves optimization of a model in function of both parameter values and conceptual model through trans-dimensional sampling. We apply the methodology to the Wildman River area, Northern Territory, Australia, where we set up 32 different conceptual models. A factorial approach to conceptual model development allows for direct attribution of differences in performance to individual uncertain components of the conceptual model. The method provides a screening tool for prioritizing research efforts while also giving more confidence to the predicted water balance compared to a deterministic water balance solution. We show that the testing of alternative conceptual models can be done efficiently with a simple additive and linear groundwater balance model and is best done relatively early in the groundwater modelling workflow.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1463
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: The authors would like to thank Chris Turnadge, Ursula Zaar and Steve Tickell who provided valuable insights into the case study area, and Chris Li, Wolfgang Nowak and three anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions and constructive commenting on the manuscript. This research was conducted as part of a PhD project funded by CSIRO.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the authors.

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Bayes' theorem
  • Catchment water balance
  • Conceptual uncertainty
  • Groundwater modelling
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Model selection
  • Multi-model framework
  • Trans-dimensional sampling


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