Revisiting “An Exercise in Groundwater Model Calibration and Prediction” after 30 years: Insights and New Directions

By: , and 



In 1988, an important publication moved model calibration and forecasting beyond case studies and theoretical analysis. It reported on a somewhat idyllic graduate student modeling exercise where many of the system properties were known; the primary forecasts of interest were heads in pumping wells after a river was modified. The model was calibrated using manual trial‐and‐error approaches where a model's forecast quality was not related to how well it was calibrated. Here, we investigate whether tools widely available today obviate the shortcomings identified 30 years ago. A reconstructed version of the 1988 true model was tested using increasing parameter estimation sophistication. The parameter estimation demonstrated the inverse problem was non‐unique because only head data were available for calibration. When a flux observation was included, current parameter estimation approaches were able to overcome all calibration and forecast issues noted in 1988. The best forecasts were obtained from a highly parameterized model that used pilot points for hydraulic conductivity and was constrained with soft knowledge. Like the 1988 results, however, the best calibrated model did not produce the best forecasts due to parameter overfitting. Finally, a computationally frugal linear uncertainty analysis demonstrated that the single‐zone model was oversimplified, with only half of the forecasts falling within the calculated uncertainty bounds. Uncertainties from the highly parameterized models had all six forecasts within the calculated uncertainty. The current results outperformed those of the 1988 effort, demonstrating the value of quantitative parameter estimation and uncertainty analysis methods.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Revisiting “An Exercise in Groundwater Model Calibration and Prediction” after 30 years: Insights and New Directions
Series title Groundwater
DOI 10.1111/gwat.12907
Volume 58
Issue 2
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) New York Water Science Center, Upper Midwest Water Science Center
Description 15 p.
First page 168
Last page 182
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