From calibration to parameter learning: Harnessing the scaling effects of big data in geoscientific modeling

Wen Ping Tsai, Dapeng Feng, Ming Pan, Hylke Beck, Kathryn Lawson, Yuan Yang, Jiangtao Liu, Chaopeng Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The behaviors and skills of models in many geosciences (e.g., hydrology and ecosystem sciences) strongly depend on spatially-varying parameters that need calibration. A well-calibrated model can reasonably propagate information from observations to unobserved variables via model physics, but traditional calibration is highly inefficient and results in non-unique solutions. Here we propose a novel differentiable parameter learning (dPL) framework that efficiently learns a global mapping between inputs (and optionally responses) and parameters. Crucially, dPL exhibits beneficial scaling curves not previously demonstrated to geoscientists: as training data increases, dPL achieves better performance, more physical coherence, and better generalizability (across space and uncalibrated variables), all with orders-of-magnitude lower computational cost. We demonstrate examples that learned from soil moisture and streamflow, where dPL drastically outperformed existing evolutionary and regionalization methods, or required only ~12.5% of the training data to achieve similar performance. The generic scheme promotes the integration of deep learning and process-based models, without mandating reimplementation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5988
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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