Articles | Volume 8, issue 4
Methods for assessment of models
29 Apr 2015
Methods for assessment of models |  | 29 Apr 2015

Reduction of predictive uncertainty in estimating irrigation water requirement through multi-model ensembles and ensemble averaging

S. Multsch, J.-F. Exbrayat, M. Kirby, N. R. Viney, H.-G. Frede, and L. Breuer

Abstract. Irrigation agriculture plays an increasingly important role in food supply. Many evapotranspiration models are used today to estimate the water demand for irrigation. They consider different stages of crop growth by empirical crop coefficients to adapt evapotranspiration throughout the vegetation period. We investigate the importance of the model structural versus model parametric uncertainty for irrigation simulations by considering six evapotranspiration models and five crop coefficient sets to estimate irrigation water requirements for growing wheat in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia. The study is carried out using the spatial decision support system SPARE:WATER. We find that structural model uncertainty among reference ET is far more important than model parametric uncertainty introduced by crop coefficients. These crop coefficients are used to estimate irrigation water requirement following the single crop coefficient approach. Using the reliability ensemble averaging (REA) technique, we are able to reduce the overall predictive model uncertainty by more than 10%. The exceedance probability curve of irrigation water requirements shows that a certain threshold, e.g. an irrigation water limit due to water right of 400 mm, would be less frequently exceeded in case of the REA ensemble average (45%) in comparison to the equally weighted ensemble average (66%). We conclude that multi-model ensemble predictions and sophisticated model averaging techniques are helpful in predicting irrigation demand and provide relevant information for decision making.

Short summary
Irrigation agriculture is required to sustain yields that allow feeding the world population. A robust assessment of irrigation requirement (IRR) relies on a sound quantification of evapotranspiration (ET). We prepared a multi-model ensemble considering several ET methods and investigate uncertainties in simulating IRR. More generally, we provide an example of the value of investigating the uncertainty in models that may be used to inform policy-making and to elaborate best management practices.