Articles | Volume 14, issue 21
Research article
08 Nov 2017
Research article |  | 08 Nov 2017

Calibration of a simple and a complex model of global marine biogeochemistry

Iris Kriest

Abstract. The assessment of the ocean biota's role in climate change is often carried out with global biogeochemical ocean models that contain many components and involve a high level of parametric uncertainty. Because many data that relate to tracers included in a model are only sparsely observed, assessment of model skill is often restricted to tracers that can be easily measured and assembled. Examination of the models' fit to climatologies of inorganic tracers, after the models have been spun up to steady state, is a common but computationally expensive procedure to assess model performance and reliability. Using new tools that have become available for global model assessment and calibration in steady state, this paper examines two different model types – a complex seven-component model (MOPS) and a very simple four-component model (RetroMOPS) – for their fit to dissolved quantities. Before comparing the models, a subset of their biogeochemical parameters has been optimised against annual-mean nutrients and oxygen. Both model types fit the observations almost equally well. The simple model contains only two nutrients: oxygen and dissolved organic phosphorus (DOP). Its misfit and large-scale tracer distributions are sensitive to the parameterisation of DOP production and decay. The spatio-temporal decoupling of nitrogen and oxygen, and processes involved in their uptake and release, renders oxygen and nitrate valuable tracers for model calibration. In addition, the non-conservative nature of these tracers (with respect to their upper boundary condition) introduces the global bias (fixed nitrogen and oxygen inventory) as a useful additional constraint on model parameters. Dissolved organic phosphorus at the surface behaves antagonistically to phosphate, and suggests that observations of this tracer – although difficult to measure – may be an important asset for model calibration.

Short summary
Early biogeochemical ocean models were of a simple structure, with few biogeochemical components. I here investigate whether additional biological complexity improves the fit with respect to observed global climatologies of annual mean nutrients and oxygen. After optimisation against these tracers a simple model fits observations almost as well as a more complex one, also with respect to independent estimates of global biogeochemical fluxes.
Final-revised paper