Abstract

One strategy for maintaining irrigated agricultural productivity in the face of diminishing resource availability is to make greater use of marginal quality waters and lands. A key to sustaining systems using degraded irrigation waters is salinity management. Advanced simulation models and decision support tools can aid in the design and management of water reuse systems, but at present model predictions and related management recommendations contain significant uncertainty. Sensitivity analyses can help characterize and reduce uncertainties by revealing which parameter variations or uncertainties have the greatest impact on model outputs. In this work, the elementary effects method was used to obtain global sensitivity analyses of UNSATCHEM seasonal simulations of forage corn (Zea mays L.) production with differing irrigation rates and water compositions. Sensitivities were determined with respect to four model outcomes: crop yield, average root zone salinity, water leaching fraction, and salt leaching fraction. For a multiple-season, quasi-steady scenario, the sensitivity analysis found that overall the most important model parameters were the plant salt tolerance parameters, followed by the solute dispersivity. For a single-season scenario with irrigation scheduling based on soil water deficit, soil hydraulic parameters were the most important; the computed salt leaching fraction was also strongly affected by the initial ionic composition of the exchange phase because of its impact on mineral precipitation. In general, parameter sensitivities depend of the specifics of a given modeling scenario, and procedures for routine use of models for site-specific degraded irrigation water management should include site-specific uncertainty and sensitivity analyses. The elementary effects method used in this work is a useful approach for obtaining parameter sensitivity information at relatively low computational cost.

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