Management decisions will often be directly informed by model predictions. However, we now know there can be no expectation of a single ‘true’ model; thus, model results are uncertain. Understandable reporting of underlying uncertainty provides necessary context to decision-makers, as model results are used for management decisions. This, in turn, forms a mechanism by which groundwater models inform a risk-management framework because uncertainty around a prediction provides the basis for estimating the probability or likelihood of some event occurring. Given that the consequences of management decisions vary, it follows that the extent of and resources devoted to an uncertainty analysis may depend on the consequences. For events with low impact, a qualitative, limited uncertainty analysis may be sufficient for informing a decision. For events with a high impact, on the other hand, the risks might be better assessed and associated decisions made using a more robust and comprehensive uncertainty analysis.
The purpose of this chapter is to provide guidance on uncertainty analysis through discussion of concepts and approaches, which can vary from heuristic (i.e. the modeller’s assessment of prediction uncertainty based on trial and error and experience) to a comprehensive, sophisticated, statistics-based uncertainty analysis. Most of the material presented here is taken from Doherty et al. (2010) if not otherwise cited. Although the treatment here is necessarily brief, the reader can find citations for the source material and additional references within this chapter.