Inverse modelling in estimating soil hydraulic functions: a Genetic Algorithm approach
Abstract. The practical application of simulation models in the field is sometimes hindered by the difficulty of deriving the soil hydraulic properties of the study area. The procedure so-called inverse modelling has been investigated in many studies to address the problem where most of the studies were limited to hypothetical soil profile and soil core samples in the laboratory. Often, the numerical approach called forward-backward simulation is employed to generate synthetic data then added with random errors to mimic the real-world condition. Inverse modelling is used to backtrack the expected values of the parameters. This study explored the potential of a Genetic Algorithm (GA) to estimate inversely the soil hydraulic functions in the unsaturated zone. Lysimeter data from a wheat experiment in India were used in the analysis. Two cases were considered: (1) a numerical case where the forward-backward approach was employed and (2) the experimental case where the real data from the lysimeter experiment were used. Concurrently, the use of soil water, evapotranspiration (ET) and the combination of both were investigated as criteria in the inverse modelling. Results showed that using soil water as a criterion provides more accurate parameter estimates than using ET. However, from a practical point of view, ET is more attractive as it can be obtained with reasonable accuracy on a regional scale from remote sensing observations. The experimental study proved that the forward-backward approach does not take into account the effects of model errors. The formulation of the problem is found to be critical for a successful parameter estimation. The sensitivity of parameters to the objective function and their zone of influence in the soil column are major determinants in the solution. Generally, their effects sometimes lead to non-uniqueness in the solution but to some extent are partly handled by GA. Overall, it was concluded that the GA approach is promising to the inverse problem in the unsaturated zone.
Keywords. Genetic Algorithm, inverse modelling, Mualem-Van Genuchten parameters, unsaturated zone, evapotranspiration, soil water