Challenges in Developing Models Describing Complex Soil Systems

Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:00 PM
Jiri Simunek, University of California Riverside, Dept. Environmental Sciences, Riverside, CA, United States and Diederik Jacques, Belgian Nuclear Research Center, Mol, Belgium
Quantitative mechanistic models that consider basic physical, mechanical, chemical, and biological processes have the potential to be powerful tools to integrate our understanding of complex soil systems, and the soil science community has often called for models that would include a large number of these diverse processes. However, once attempts have been made to develop such models, the response from the community has not always been overwhelming, especially after it discovered that these models are consequently highly complex, requiring not only a large number of parameters, not all of which can be easily (or at all) measured and/or identified, and which are often associated with large uncertainties, but also requiring from their users deep knowledge of all/most of these implemented physical, mechanical, chemical and biological processes. Real, or perceived, complexity of these models then discourages users from using them even for relatively simple applications, for which they would be perfectly adequate. Due to the nonlinear nature and chemical/biological complexity of the soil systems, it is also virtually impossible to verify these types of models analytically, raising doubts about their applicability. Code inter-comparisons, which is then likely the most suitable method to assess code capabilities and model performance, requires existence of multiple models of similar/overlapping capabilities, which may not always exist. It is thus a challenge not only to developed models describing complex soil systems, but also to persuade the soil science community in using them. As a result, complex quantitative mechanistic models are still an underutilized tool in soil science research. We will demonstrate some of the challenges discussed above on our own efforts in developing quantitative mechanistic models (such as HP1/2) for complex soil systems.