Conceptual uncertainty is considered one of the major sources of uncertainty in groundwater flow modelling. In this regard, hypothesis testing is essential to increase system understanding by refuting alternative conceptual models. Often a stepwise approach, with respect to complexity, is promoted but hypothesis testing of simple groundwater models is rarely applied.
We present an approach to model Bayesian hypothesis testing in a simple groundwater balance model, which involves optimization of a model in function of both parameter values and conceptual model through trans-dimensional sampling. We apply the methodology to the Wildman River Area, Northern Territory, Australia, where we set up 32 different conceptual models. A factorial approach to conceptual model development allows for direct attribution of differences in performance to individual uncertain components of the conceptual model.
The method provides a screening tool for prioritizing research efforts while also giving more confidence to the predicted water balance compared to a deterministic water balance solution. We show that the testing of alternative conceptual models can be done efficiently with simplified water balance models early in the groundwater modelling workflow.