The VERY BIG METAPHOR modelling news


Okay, I know that not everyone’s going to be as excited about this as I am, but a VERY BIG METAPHOR (insert tsunami, earthquake, magmatic explosion or news that Taylor Swift is dating Kim Jong Un) just happened in the world of using models to better inform resource decision-making.

Sorry, I need to go back a bit to try to build up some sense of occasion.  Ty Ferre’ is a Professor at the mathematically prestigious University of Arizona.  Last year I had the privilege of attending one of the 123 lectures he presented on a world tour (the fabulous Darcy Lectures, TED for hydrogeologists – about a new modelling approach he and his students have developed, called DIRECT: Discrimination-Inference to Reduce Expected Costs Technique.  I know, sexy right?

The first thing that wowed me when I went to Ty’s Darcy Lecture was the following haiku:

Our data are sparse;
our models are incomplete;
but, we must decide.

Amazeballs.  That is everything this blog is about, but better said in 12 words.

Ty is a humble and lovely giant in this field, and what he and his co-authors presented in their 2015 paper ( is absolutely massive.  The downside is that it’s a pretty complicated approach and then it has a bunch of massively difficult sub-components, but for those who can even half-follow it and potentially have the resources to attempt it, it’s ground-breaking.  It involves using potentially large numbers of “rival models” to enable the uncertainties arising from the modelling to be investigated and quantified using statistical and analytical tools.  Another key aspect is that the ensemble of models can be used to identify which parameters matter (the ones that discriminate are the ones to watch), and what investigations would deliver the most bang for their buck in supporting the decision-making.

The DIRECT approach really should be an option for the assessment of all large underground developments in order that we would truly have a good understanding of what will really happen if approved.  Unfortunately, it’s so far from the current reality where some developers are still griping that they even have to pay for one model, let alone a hundred and with stakeholder consultation on it all to boot.  We’ve got some hard yards to travel before we reach such a fabulous benchmark for modelling that gives enough information for regulators need to make good decisions, but it gives us a northpoint to head towards.

So, that was last year.  This year Ty has wowed me again.  Sometime over the 18 months, no doubt whilst on and after his Darcy Lectures, he’s been gathering smart young hydrogeologists to his multi-model DIRECT flag.  So here at last is the Big Reveal!

The September/October 2017 version of the National Groundwater Association’s journal Groundwater has been hijacked by Ty and his modelling zealots – Ty has written the unifying front paper and there are another 17 papers which explore aspects of Ty’s themes.  The key talking point throughout is – how do we make modelling give the information that regulators and other stakeholders need to make good decisions?  My favorite subject in the world at the moment, hence all the breathless gush.

Not convinced that the earth has shattered with the news?   Not even the biggest reveal since this morning’s Coco Pops box?  Well OK, maybe there’s not as many regulatorly-analytically nerdy types out there as I’d like to think but believe me if you’ve bothered to read this far, it’s a big step forward in making better informed decisions about the resources we have left.

If you are as excited as I am, and that’s the sad and lonely hope of most bloggers I guess, then Ty’s paper is at;jsessionid=FF342A544D3F45407F762426009F0D0C.f03t03.

Unfortunately, you need to subscribe to NGWA to access them, as I did when I found out about this special edition.  For those less thrilled, committed or arsed, my next post (The Ferre’ DIRECTion) will aim to summarise a bunch of the ideas which ooze from their pages…


Author: glassearth

Looking hard at how we can share resources sustainably through better regulation

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