Maximum entropy production: Can it be used to constrain conceptual hydrological models?

M. C. Westhoff*, E. Zehe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In recent years, optimality principles have been proposed to constrain hydrological models. The principle of maximum entropy production (MEP) is one of the proposed principles and is subject of this study. It states that a steady state system is organized in such a way that entropy production is maximized. Although successful applications have been reported in literature, generally little guidance has been given on how to apply the principle. The aim of this paper is to use the maximum power principle - which is closely related to MEP - to constrain parameters of a simple conceptual (bucket) model. Although, we had to conclude that conceptual bucket models could not be constrained with respect to maximum power, this study sheds more light on how to use and how not to use the principle. Several of these issues have been correctly applied in other studies, but have not been explained or discussed as such.

While other studies were based on resistance formulations, where the quantity to be optimized is a linear function of the resistance to be identified, our study shows that the approach also works for formulations that are only linear in the log-transformed space. Moreover, we showed that parameters describing process thresholds or influencing boundary conditions cannot be constrained. We furthermore conclude that, in order to apply the principle correctly, the model should be (1) physically based; i.e. fluxes should be defined as a gradient divided by a resistance, (2) the optimized flux should have a feedback on the gradient; i.e. the influence of boundary conditions on gradients should be minimal, (3) the temporal scale of the model should be chosen in such a way that the parameter that is optimized is constant over the modelling period, (4) only when the correct feedbacks are implemented the fluxes can be correctly optimized and (5) there should be a trade-off between two or more fluxes. Although our application of the maximum power principle did not work, and although the principle is a hypothesis that should still be thoroughly tested, we believe that the principle still has potential in advancing hydrological science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3141-3157
Number of pages17
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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