Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Methods for assessment of models
15 Jan 2016
Methods for assessment of models |  | 15 Jan 2016

The assessment of a global marine ecosystem model on the basis of emergent properties and ecosystem function: a case study with ERSEM

L. de Mora, M. Butenschön, and J. I. Allen

Abstract. Ecosystem models are often assessed using quantitative metrics of absolute ecosystem state, but these model–data comparisons are disproportionately vulnerable to discrepancies in the location of important circulation features. An alternative method is to demonstrate the models capacity to represent ecosystem function; the emergence of a coherent natural relationship in a simulation indicates that the model may have an appropriate representation of the ecosystem functions that lead to the emergent relationship. Furthermore, as emergent properties are large-scale properties of the system, model validation with emergent properties is possible even when there is very little or no appropriate data for the region under study, or when the hydrodynamic component of the model differs significantly from that observed in nature at the same location and time.

A selection of published meta-analyses are used to establish the validity of a complex marine ecosystem model and to demonstrate the power of validation with emergent properties. These relationships include the phytoplankton community structure, the ratio of carbon to chlorophyll in phytoplankton and particulate organic matter, the ratio of particulate organic carbon to particulate organic nitrogen and the stoichiometric balance of the ecosystem.

These metrics can also inform aspects of the marine ecosystem model not available from traditional quantitative and qualitative methods. For instance, these emergent properties can be used to validate the design decisions of the model, such as the range of phytoplankton functional types and their behaviour, the stoichiometric flexibility with regards to each nutrient, and the choice of fixed or variable carbon to nitrogen ratios.

Short summary
To use models to inform policy or to forecast the impact of climate change, the model must first be shown to be a valid representation of the ecosystem. Here we show an novel method to validate a marine model using its ability to represent ecosystem function. These relationships are the community structure, the carbon to chlorophyll ratio and the stoichiometric balance of the ecosystem. These methods are powerful, valid over large spatial scales and independent of the circulation model.