Data-driven evolution of water quality models: An in-depth investigation of innovative outlier detection approaches-A case study of Irish Water Quality Index (IEWQI) model

Md Galal Uddin, Azizur Rahman, Firouzeh Rosa Taghikhah, Agnieszka I Olbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Recently, there has been a significant advancement in the water quality index (WQI) models utilizing data-driven approaches, especially those integrating machine learning and artificial intelligence (ML/AI) technology. Although, several recent studies have revealed that the data-driven model has produced inconsistent results due to the data outliers, which significantly impact model reliability and accuracy. The present study was carried out to assess the impact of data outliers on a recently developed Irish Water Quality Index (IEWQI) model, which relies on data-driven techniques. To the author's best knowledge, there has been no systematic framework for evaluating the influence of data outliers on such models. For the purposes of assessing the outlier impact of the data outliers on the water quality (WQ) model, this was the first initiative in research to introduce a comprehensive approach that combines machine learning with advanced statistical techniques. The proposed framework was implemented in Cork Harbour, Ireland, to evaluate the IEWQI model's sensitivity to outliers in input indicators to assess the water quality. In order to detect the data outlier, the study utilized two widely used ML techniques, including Isolation Forest (IF) and Kernel Density Estimation (KDE) within the dataset, for predicting WQ with and without these outliers. For validating the ML results, the study used five commonly used statistical measures. The performance metric (R 2) indicates that the model performance improved slightly (R 2 increased from 0.92 to 0.95) in predicting WQ after removing the data outlier from the input. But the IEWQI scores revealed that there were no statistically significant differences among the actual values, predictions with outliers, and predictions without outliers, with a 95 % confidence interval at p < 0.05. The results of model uncertainty also revealed that the model contributed <1 % uncertainty to the final assessment results for using both datasets (with and without outliers). In addition, all statistical measures indicated that the ML techniques provided reliable results that can be utilized for detecting outliers and their impacts on the IEWQI model. The findings of the research reveal that although the data outliers had no significant impact on the IEWQI model architecture, they had moderate impacts on the rating schemes' of the model. This finding indicated that detecting the data outliers could improve the accuracy of the IEWQI model in rating WQ as well as be helpful in mitigating the model eclipsing problem. In addition, the results of the research provide evidence of how the data outliers influenced the data-driven model in predicting WQ and reliability, particularly since the study confirmed that the IEWQI model's could be effective for accurately rating WQ despite the presence of the data outliers in the input. It could occur due to the spatio-temporal variability inherent in WQ indicators. However, the research assesses the influence of data input outliers on the IEWQI model and underscores important areas for future investigation. These areas include expanding temporal analysis using multi-year data, examining spatial outlier patterns, and evaluating detection methods. Moreover, it is essential to explore the real-world impacts of revised rating categories, involve stakeholders in outlier management, and fine-tune model parameters. Analysing model performance across varying temporal and spatial resolutions and incorporating additional environmental data can significantly enhance the accuracy of WQ assessment. Consequently, this study offers valuable insights to strengthen the IEWQI model's robustness and provides avenues for enhancing its utility in broader WQ assessment applications. Moreover, the study successfully adopted the framework for evaluating how data input outliers affect the data-driven model, such as the IEWQI model. The current study has been carried out in Cork Harbour for only a single year of WQ data. The framework should be tested across various domains for evaluating the response of the IEWQI model's in terms of the spatio-temporal resolution of the domain. Nevertheless, the study recommended that future research should be conducted to adjust or revise the IEWQI model's rating schemes and investigate the practical effects of data outliers on updated rating categories. However, the study provides potential recommendations for enhancing the IEWQI model's adaptability and reveals its effectiveness in expanding its applicability in more general WQ assessment scenarios.
Original languageEnglish
Article number121499
Pages (from-to)121499
Number of pages1
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2024


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