Global sensitivity analysis for urban water quality modelling: Terminology, convergence and comparison of different methods

Giorgio Mannina, Alida Cosenza, Marc B. Neumann, Peter A. Vanrolleghem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Sensitivity analysis represents an important step in improving the understanding and use of environmental models. Indeed, by means of global sensitivity analysis (GSA), modellers may identify both important (factor prioritisation) and non-influential (factor fixing) model factors. No general rule has yet been defined for verifying the convergence of the GSA methods. In order to fill this gap this paper presents a convergence analysis of three widely used GSA methods (SRC, Extended FAST and Morris screening) for an urban drainage stormwater quality-quantity model. After the convergence was achieved the results of each method were compared. In particular, a discussion on peculiarities, applicability, and reliability of the three methods is presented. Moreover, a graphical Venn diagram based classification scheme and a precise terminology for better identifying important, interacting and non-influential factors for each method is proposed. In terms of convergence, it was shown that sensitivity indices related to factors of the quantity model achieve convergence faster. Results for the Morris screening method deviated considerably from the other methods. Factors related to the quality model require a much higher number of simulations than the number suggested in literature for achieving convergence with this method. In fact, the results have shown that the term "screening" is improperly used as the method may exclude important factors from further analysis. Moreover, for the presented application the convergence analysis shows more stable sensitivity coefficients for the Extended-FAST method compared to SRC and Morris screening. Substantial agreement in terms of factor fixing was found between the Morris screening and Extended FAST methods. In general, the water quality related factors exhibited more important interactions than factors related to water quantity. Furthermore, in contrast to water quantity model outputs, water quality model outputs were found to be characterised by high non-linearity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-352
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology

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