Estimating Model Probabilities using Thermodynamic Markov Chain Monte Carlo Methods
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods are widely used to evaluate model probability for quantifying model uncertainty. In a general procedure, MCMC simulations are first conducted for each individual model, and MCMC parameter samples are then used to approximate marginal likelihood of the model by calculating the geometric mean of the joint likelihood of the model and its parameters. It has been found the method of evaluating geometric mean suffers from the numerical problem of low convergence rate. A simple test case shows that even millions of MCMC samples are insufficient to yield accurate estimation of the marginal likelihood. To resolve this problem, a thermodynamic method is used to have multiple MCMC runs with different values of a heating coefficient between zero and one. When the heating coefficient is zero, the MCMC run is equivalent to a random walk MC in the prior parameter space; when the heating coefficient is one, the MCMC run is the conventional one. For a simple case with analytical form of the marginal likelihood, the thermodynamic method yields more accurate estimate than the method of using geometric mean. This is also demonstrated for a case of groundwater modeling with consideration of four alternative models postulated based on different conceptualization of a confining layer. This groundwater example shows that model probabilities estimated using the thermodynamic method are more reasonable than those obtained using the geometric method. The thermodynamic method is general, and can be used for a wide range of environmental problem for model uncertainty quantification.