The potential of an observational data set for calibration of a computationally expensive computer model

Doug J. McNeall, P. G. Challenor, J. R. Gattiker, Emma J Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


We measure the potential of an observational data
set to constrain a set of inputs to a complex and computationally
expensive computer model.We use each member in turn
of an ensemble of output from a computationally expensive
model, corresponding to an observable part of a modelled
system, as a proxy for an observational data set. We argue
that, given some assumptions, our ability to constrain uncertain
parameter inputs to a model using its own output as data,
provides a maximum bound for our ability to constrain the
model inputs using observations of the real system.
The ensemble provides a set of known parameter input and
model output pairs, which we use to build a computationally
efficient statistical proxy for the full computer model,
termed an emulator. We use the emulator to find and rule
out “implausible” values for the inputs of held-out ensemble
members, given the computer model output. As we know the
true values of the inputs for the ensemble, we can compare
our constraint of the model inputs with the true value of the
input for any ensemble member. Measures of the quality of
constraint have the potential to inform strategy for data collection
campaigns, before any real-world data is collected, as
well as acting as an effective sensitivity analysis.
We use an ensemble of the ice sheet model Glimmer to
demonstrate our measures of quality of constraint. The ensemble
has 250 model runs with 5 uncertain input parameters,
and an output variable representing the pattern of the
thickness of ice over Greenland. We have an observation
of historical ice sheet thickness that directly matches the
output variable, and offers an opportunity to constrain the
model. We show that different ways of summarising our
output variable (ice volume, ice surface area and maximum
ice thickness) offer different potential constraints on individual
input parameters. We show that combining the observational
data gives increased power to constrain the model. We
investigate the impact of uncertainty in observations or in
model biases on our measures, showing that even a modest
uncertainty can seriously degrade the potential of the observational
data to constrain the model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1715-1728
JournalGeoscientific Model Development
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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