Unsaturated zone model complexity for the assimilation of evapotranspiration rates in groundwater modelling

Gelsinari, Simone; Pauwels, Valentijn R. N.; Daly, Edoardo; van Dam, Jos; Uijlenhoet, Remko; Fewster-Young, Nicholas; Doble, Rebecca

The biophysical processes occurring in the unsaturated zone have a direct impact on the water table dynamics. Representing these processes through the application of unsaturated zone models of different complexity has an impact on the estimates of the volumes of water flowing between the unsaturated zone and the aquifer. These fluxes, known as net recharge, are often used as the shared variable that couples unsaturated to groundwater models. However, as recharge estimates are always affected by a degree of uncertainty, model–data fusion methods, such as data assimilation, can be used to inform these coupled models and reduce uncertainty. This study assesses the effect of unsaturated zone models complexity (conceptual versus physically based) to update groundwater model outputs, through the assimilation of actual evapotranspiration rates, for a water-limited site in South Australia. Actual evapotranspiration rates are assimilated because they have been shown to be related to the water table dynamics and thus form the link between remote sensing data and the deeper parts of the soil profile. Results have been quantified using standard metrics, such as the root mean square error and Pearson correlation coefficient, and reinforced by calculating the continuous ranked probability score, which is specifically designed to determine a more representative error in stochastic models. It has been found that, once properly calibrated to reproduce the actual evapotranspiration–water table dynamics, a simple conceptual model may be sufficient for this purpose; thus using one configuration over the other should be motivated by the specific purpose of the simulation and the information available.



Gelsinari, Simone / Pauwels, Valentijn R. N. / Daly, Edoardo / et al: Unsaturated zone model complexity for the assimilation of evapotranspiration rates in groundwater modelling. 2021. Copernicus Publications.


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