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Spatial analysis of the error in a model of soil nitrogen

By M. J. Pringle, S. J. Baxter, B. P. Marchant and R. M. Lark


Models of the dynamics of nitrogen in soil (soil-N) can be used to aid the fertilizer management of a crop. The predictions of soil-N models can be validated by comparison with observed data. Validation generally involves calculating non-spatial statistics of the observations and predictions, such as their means, their mean squared-difference, and their correlation. However, when the model predictions are spatially distributed across a landscape the model requires validation with spatial statistics. There are three reasons for this: (i) the model may be more or less successful at reproducing the variance of the observations at different spatial scales; (ii) the correlation of the predictions with the observations may be different at different spatial scales; (iii) the spatial pattern of model error may be informative. In this study we used a model, parameterized with spatially variable input information about the soil, to predict the mineral-N content of soil in an arable field, and compared the results with observed data. We validated the performance of the N model spatially with a linear mixed model of the observations and model predictions, estimated by residual maximum likelihood. This novel approach allowed us to describe the joint variation of the observations and predictions as: (i) independent random variation that occurred at a fine spatial scale; (ii) correlated random variation that occurred at a coarse spatial scale; (iii) systematic variation associated with a spatial trend. The linear mixed model revealed that, in general, the performance of the N model changed depending on the spatial scale of interest. At the scales associated with random variation, the N model underestimated the variance of the observations, and the predictions were correlated poorly with the observations. At the scale of the trend, the predictions and observations shared a common surface. The spatial pattern of the error of the N model suggested that the observations were affected by the local soil condition, but this was not accounted for by the N model. In summary, the N model would be well-suited to field-scale management of soil nitrogen, but suited poorly to management at finer spatial scales. This information was not apparent with a non-spatial validation. (c),2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved

Year: 2008
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2007.09.021
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