1.1.2 Component 2: Model-data analysis

Once all of the relevant contextual information about a subregion or bioregion is assembled (Component 1), the focus of Component 2: Model-data analysis is to analyse and transform the information in preparation for Component 3: Impact analysis and Component 4: Risk analysis. The BA methodology is designed to include as much relevant information as possible and retain as many variables in play until they can be positively ruled out of contention. Further, estimates of the certainty, or confidence, of the decisions are provided where possible; again to assist the user of the BA to evaluate the strength of the evidence.

The analysis and transformation in Component 2 depends on a succinct and clear synthesis of the knowledge and information about each subregion or bioregion; this is achieved and documented through conceptual models (abstractions or simplifications of reality). A number of conceptual models are developed for each BA, including regional-scale conceptual models that synthesise the geology, groundwater and surface water. Conceptual models of causal pathways are developed to characterise the causal pathways, the logical chain of events ‒ either planned or unplanned ‒ that link coal resource development and potential impacts on water resources and water-dependent assets. The conceptual models of causal pathways bring together a number of other conceptual models developed in a BA, for both the baseline and the CRDP. The landscape classes and the hazard analysis are also important inputs to the process. Emphasising gaps and uncertainties is as important as summarising what is known about how various systems work.

The causal pathways play a critical role in focusing the BA on the impacts and their spatial and temporal context. They provide a basis for ruling out potential impacts for some combinations of location and assets; for example, a particular type of wetland might be beyond the reach of any type of potential impact given the activities and location of the specific coal resource development in the subregion or bioregion. The causal pathways also underpin the construction of groundwater and surface water models, and frame how the model results are used to determine the severity and likelihood of impacts on water and water-dependent assets.

Surface water models and groundwater models are developed and implemented in order to represent and quantify the hydrological systems and their likely changes in response to coal resource development (both baseline and CRDP). Surface water models are drawn from the Australian Water Resources Assessment (AWRA) modelling suite, which includes the landscape model AWRA-L for streamflow prediction and river systems model AWRA-R for river routing and management. The latter is only used in a subset of subregions or bioregions and depends on the nature of the river regulation and the availability of existing streamflow data. The groundwater modelling is regional, and the choice of model type and coding is specific to a subregion or bioregion depending on data availability and the characteristics of the coal resource development in the area.

The hydrological models numerically estimate values for the hydrological response variables which are further analysed and transformed for the impact analysis. The hydrological response variables are subjected to sensitivity analysis and uncertainty analysis that test the degree to which each of the model inputs (parameters) affects the model results. It does this by running the model thousands of times and varying the values of the input parameters through a precisely defined and randomised range of values. The most influential parameters identified are taken into an uncertainty analysis, where more carefully chosen prior distributions for those parameters are propagated through to model outputs.

The uncertainty framework is quantitative and coherent. The models are developed so that probabilities can be chained throughout the sequence of modelling to produce results with interpretable uncertainty bounds. Consistent and explicit spatial and temporal scales are used and different uncertainties in the analysis are explicitly discussed. The numerical and uncertainty model results are produced at specific locations known as model nodes. Results can be subsequently interpolated to other locations, such as landscape classes and/or assets.

The values for the hydrological response variables estimated by the numerical modelling are critical to assessing the types and severity of the potential impacts on water and water-dependent assets. This is achieved through a staged receptor impact modelling.

First, information and estimates are elicited from experts with relevant domain knowledge about the important ecosystem components, interactions and dependencies, including water dependency, for specific landscape classes. The experts have complete access to the assembled BA information, including preliminary results from the hydrological numerical modelling. The results are qualitative ecosystem models of the landscape classes (or assets) constructed using signed directed graphs.

Based on these qualitative models, the second stage is producing quantitative receptor impact models where experts, drawing on their knowledge and the extensive peer-reviewed literature, estimate the relationships between meaningful hydrological response variables and the resulting measurable change in a key characteristic of the landscape class or asset (i.e. receptor impact variables). For example, a receptor impact model could be elicited for the relationship between reduced surface water quality and the change in condition of habitat of a given species (as per Figure 6(b)). As only a small number of receptor impact variables (at least one and no more than three) will be identified for each potentially impacted landscape class, the particular receptor impact variables selected for the receptor impact modelling should be considered to be a measure of a critical ecosystem function (e.g. the base of complex food webs) and/or be indicative of the response of the ecosystem to hydrological change more broadly.

The receptor impact models are, where available, evaluated for each landscape class; this links the numerical hydrological modelling results (hydrological changes due to coal resource development) with ecological changes in water and water-dependent assets of the subregion or bioregion. Therefore, the output of Component 2 is a suite of information of hydrological and ecological changes that can be linked to the assets and landscape classes.

Last updated:
30 May 2018