Articles | Volume 14, issue 18
Research article
27 Sep 2017
Research article |  | 27 Sep 2017

Bayesian calibration of terrestrial ecosystem models: a study of advanced Markov chain Monte Carlo methods

Dan Lu, Daniel Ricciuto, Anthony Walker, Cosmin Safta, and William Munger

Abstract. Calibration of terrestrial ecosystem models is important but challenging. Bayesian inference implemented by Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) sampling provides a comprehensive framework to estimate model parameters and associated uncertainties using their posterior distributions. The effectiveness and efficiency of the method strongly depend on the MCMC algorithm used. In this work, a differential evolution adaptive Metropolis (DREAM) algorithm is used to estimate posterior distributions of 21 parameters for the data assimilation linked ecosystem carbon (DALEC) model using 14 years of daily net ecosystem exchange data collected at the Harvard Forest Environmental Measurement Site eddy-flux tower. The calibration of DREAM results in a better model fit and predictive performance compared to the popular adaptive Metropolis (AM) scheme. Moreover, DREAM indicates that two parameters controlling autumn phenology have multiple modes in their posterior distributions while AM only identifies one mode. The application suggests that DREAM is very suitable to calibrate complex terrestrial ecosystem models, where the uncertain parameter size is usually large and existence of local optima is always a concern. In addition, this effort justifies the assumptions of the error model used in Bayesian calibration according to the residual analysis. The result indicates that a heteroscedastic, correlated, Gaussian error model is appropriate for the problem, and the consequent constructed likelihood function can alleviate the underestimation of parameter uncertainty that is usually caused by using uncorrelated error models.

Short summary
Calibration of terrestrial ecosystem models (TEMs) is important but challenging. This study applies an advanced sampling technique for parameter estimation of a TEM. The results improve the model fit and predictive performance.
Final-revised paper