Articles | Volume 6, issue 4
Model evaluation paper
23 Aug 2013
Model evaluation paper |  | 23 Aug 2013

Sensitivities and uncertainties of modeled ground temperatures in mountain environments

S. Gubler, S. Endrizzi, S. Gruber, and R. S. Purves

Abstract. Model evaluation is often performed at few locations due to the lack of spatially distributed data. Since the quantification of model sensitivities and uncertainties can be performed independently from ground truth measurements, these analyses are suitable to test the influence of environmental variability on model evaluation. In this study, the sensitivities and uncertainties of a physically based mountain permafrost model are quantified within an artificial topography. The setting consists of different elevations and exposures combined with six ground types characterized by porosity and hydraulic properties. The analyses are performed for a combination of all factors, that allows for quantification of the variability of model sensitivities and uncertainties within a whole modeling domain.

We found that model sensitivities and uncertainties vary strongly depending on different input factors such as topography or different soil types. The analysis shows that model evaluation performed at single locations may not be representative for the whole modeling domain. For example, the sensitivity of modeled mean annual ground temperature to ground albedo ranges between 0.5 and 4 °C depending on elevation, aspect and the ground type. South-exposed inclined locations are more sensitive to changes in ground albedo than north-exposed slopes since they receive more solar radiation. The sensitivity to ground albedo increases with decreasing elevation due to shorter duration of the snow cover. The sensitivity in the hydraulic properties changes considerably for different ground types: rock or clay, for instance, are not sensitive to uncertainties in the hydraulic properties, while for gravel or peat, accurate estimates of the hydraulic properties significantly improve modeled ground temperatures. The discretization of ground, snow and time have an impact on modeled mean annual ground temperature (MAGT) that cannot be neglected (more than 1 °C for several discretization parameters). We show that the temporal resolution should be at least 1 h to ensure errors less than 0.2 °C in modeled MAGT, and the uppermost ground layer should at most be 20 mm thick.

Within the topographic setting, the total parametric output uncertainties expressed as the length of the 95% uncertainty interval of the Monte Carlo simulations range from 0.5 to 1.5 °C for clay and silt, and ranges from 0.5 to around 2.4 °C for peat, sand, gravel and rock. These uncertainties are comparable to the variability of ground surface temperatures measured within 10 m × 10 m grids in Switzerland. The increased uncertainties for sand, peat and gravel are largely due to their sensitivity to the hydraulic conductivity.