Towards a comprehensive assessment of model structural adequacy

Hoshin V. Gupta, Martyn P. Clark, Jasper A. Vrugt, Gab Abramowitz, Ming Ye

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

298 Scopus citations


The past decade has seen significant progress in characterizing uncertainty in environmental systems models, through statistical treatment of incomplete knowledge regarding parameters, model structure, and observational data. Attention has now turned to the issue of model structural adequacy (MSA, a term we prefer over model structure "error"). In reviewing philosophical perspectives from the groundwater, unsaturated zone, terrestrial hydrometeorology, and surface water communities about how to model the terrestrial hydrosphere, we identify several areas where different subcommunities can learn from each other. In this paper, we (a) propose a consistent and systematic "unifying conceptual framework" consisting of five formal steps for comprehensive assessment of MSA; (b) discuss the need for a pluralistic definition of adequacy; (c) investigate how MSA has been addressed in the literature; and (d) identify four important issues that require detailed attentionstructured model evaluation, diagnosis of epistemic cause, attention to appropriate model complexity, and a multihypothesis approach to inference. We believe that there exists tremendous scope to collectively improve the scientific fidelity of our models and that the proposed framework can help to overcome barriers to communication. By doing so, we can make better progress toward addressing the question "How can we use data to detect, characterize, and resolve model structural inadequacies?".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW08301
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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