A priori parameterisation of the CERES soil-crop models and tests against several European data sets
Angás Pueyo, Pedro
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Mechanistic soil-crop models have become indispensable tools to investigate the effect of management practices on the productivity or environmental impacts of arable crops. Ideally these models may claim to be universally applicable because they simulate the major processes governing the fate of inputs such as fertiliser nitrogen or pesticides. However, because they deal with complex systems and uncertain phenomena, site-specific calibration is usually a prerequisite to ensure their predictions are realistic. This statement implies that some experimental knowledge on the system to be simulated should be available prior to any modelling attempt, and raises a tremendous limitation to practical applications of models. Because the demand for more general simulation results is high, modellers have nevertheless taken the bold step of extrapolating a model tested within a limited sample of real conditions to a much larger domain. While methodological questions are often disregarded in this extrapolation process, they are specifically addressed in this paper, and in particular the issue of models a priori parameterisation. We thus implemented and tested a standard procedure to parameterize the soil components of a modified version of the CERES models. The procedure converts routinely-available soil properties into functional characteristics by means of pedo-transfer functions. The resulting predictions of soil water and nitrogen dynamics, as well as crop biomass, nitrogen content and leaf area index were compared to observations from trials conducted in five locations across Europe (southern Italy, northern Spain, northern France and northern Germany). In three cases, the model’s performance was judged acceptable when compared to experimental errors on the measurements, based on a test of the model’s root mean squared error (RMSE). Significant deviations between observations and model outputs were however noted in all sites, and could be ascribed to various model routines. In decreasing importance, these were: water balance, the turnover of soil organic matter, and crop N uptake. A better match to field observations could therefore be achieved by visually adjusting related parameters, such as field-capacity water content or the size of soil microbial biomass. As a result, model predictions fell within the measurement errors in all sites for most variables, and the model’s RMSE was within the range of published values for similar tests. We conclude that the proposed a priori method yields acceptable simulations with only a 50% probability, a figure which may be greatly increased through a posteriori calibration. Modellers should thus exercise caution when extrapolating their models to a large sample of pedo-climatic conditions for which they have only limited information.