In simulation modelling, it is desirable to quantify model uncertainties and provide not only point estimates for output variables but confidence intervals as well. Spatially distributed physical and ecological process models are becoming widely used, with runs being made over a grid of points that represent the landscape. This requires input values at each grid point, which often have to be interpolated from irregularly scattered measurement sites, e.g., weather stations. Interpolation introduces spatially varying errors which propagate through the model We extended established uncertainty analysis methods to a spatial domain for quantifying spatial patterns of input variable interpolation errors and how they propagate through a model to affect the uncertainty of the model output. We applied this to a model of potential evapotranspiration (PET) as a demonstration. We modelled PET for three time periods in 1990 as a function of temperature, humidity, and wind on a 10-km grid across the U.S. portion of the Columbia River Basin. Temperature, humidity, and wind speed were interpolated using kriging from 700- 1000 supporting data points. Kriging standard deviations (SD) were used to quantify the spatially varying interpolation uncertainties. For each of 5693 grid points, 100 Monte Carlo simulations were done, using the kriged values of temperature, humidity, and wind, plus random error terms determined by the kriging SDs and the correlations of interpolation errors among the three variables. For the spring season example, kriging SDs averaged 2.6??C for temperature, 8.7% for relative humidity, and 0.38 m s-1 for wind. The resultant PET estimates had coefficients of variation (CVs) ranging from 14% to 27% for the 10-km grid cells. Maps of PET means and CVs showed the spatial patterns of PET with a measure of its uncertainty due to interpolation of the input variables. This methodology should be applicable to a variety of spatially distributed models using interpolated inputs.
Additional publication details
Spatial uncertainty analysis: Propagation of interpolation errors in spatially distributed models