The application of satellite ocean colour data to the calibration of plankton ecosystem models for large geographic domains, over which their ideal parameters cannot be assumed to be invariant, is investigated. A method is presented for seeking the number and geographic scope of parameter sets which allows the best fit to validation data to be achieved. These are independent data not used in the parameter estimation process. The goodness-of-fit of the optimally calibrated model to the validation data is an objective measure of merit for the model, together with its external forcing data. Importantly, this is a statistic which can be used for comparative evaluation of different models. The method makes use of observations from multiple locations, referred to as stations, distributed across the geographic domain. It relies on a technique for finding groups of stations which can be aggregated for parameter estimation purposes with minimal increase in the resulting misfit between model and observations.<br/>The results of testing this split-domain calibration method for a simple zero dimensional model, using observations from 30 stations in the North Atlantic, are presented. The stations are divided into separate calibration and validation sets. One year of ocean colour data from each station were used in conjunction with a climatological estimate of the station’s annual nitrate maximum. The results demonstrate the practical utility of the method and imply that an optimal fit of the model to the validation data would be given by two parameter sets. The corresponding division of the North Atlantic domain into two provinces allows a misfit-based cost to be achieved which is 25% lower than that for the single parameter set obtained using all of the calibration stations. In general, parameters are poorly constrained, contributing to a high degree of uncertainty in model output for unobserved variables. This suggests that limited progress towards a definitive model calibration can be made without including other types of observations
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