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Developing Efficient Strategies For Global Sensitivity Analysis Of Complex Environmental Systems Models



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Complex Environmental Systems Models (CESMs) have been developed and applied as vital tools to tackle the ecological, water, food, and energy crises that humanity faces, and have been used widely to support decision-making about management of the quality and quantity of Earth’s resources. CESMs are often controlled by many interacting and uncertain parameters, and typically integrate data from multiple sources at different spatio-temporal scales, which make them highly complex. Global Sensitivity Analysis (GSA) techniques have proven to be promising for deepening our understanding of the model complexity and interactions between various parameters and providing helpful recommendations for further model development and data acquisition. Aside from the complexity issue, the computationally expensive nature of the CESMs precludes effective application of the existing GSA techniques in quantifying the global influence of each parameter on variability of the CESMs’ outputs. This is because a comprehensive sensitivity analysis often requires performing a very large number of model runs. Therefore, there is a need to break down this barrier by the development of more efficient strategies for sensitivity analysis. The research undertaken in this dissertation is mainly focused on alleviating the computational burden associated with GSA of the computationally expensive CESMs through developing efficiency-increasing strategies for robust sensitivity analysis. This is accomplished by: (1) proposing an efficient sequential sampling strategy for robust sampling-based analysis of CESMs; (2) developing an automated parameter grouping strategy of high-dimensional CESMs, (3) introducing a new robustness measure for convergence assessment of the GSA methods; and (4) investigating time-saving strategies for handling simulation failures/crashes during the sensitivity analysis of computationally expensive CESMs. This dissertation provides a set of innovative numerical techniques that can be used in conjunction with any GSA algorithm and be integrated in model building and systems analysis procedures in any field where models are used. A range of analytical test functions and environmental models with varying complexity and dimensionality are utilized across this research to test the performance of the proposed methods. These methods, which are embedded in the VARS–TOOL software package, can also provide information useful for diagnostic testing, parameter identifiability analysis, model simplification, model calibration, and experimental design. They can be further applied to address a range of decision making-related problems such as characterizing the main causes of risk in the context of probabilistic risk assessment and exploring the CESMs’ sensitivity to a wide range of plausible future changes (e.g., hydrometeorological conditions) in the context of scenario analysis.



Complex environmental models, Sensitivity analysis, Uncertainty analysis, Computationally expensive models, Curse of dimensionality, Robustness, Convergence, Diagnostic testing



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


School of Environment and Sustainability


Environment and Sustainability


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