Relative performance of different data mining techniques for nitrate concentration and load estimation in different type of watersheds

Environ Pollut. 2020 Aug;263(Pt A):114618. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2020.114618. Epub 2020 Apr 17.


The increasing availability of water quality datasets has led to a greater focus on hydrologic and water quality analysis, thus requiring more efficient and accurate modelling methods. Data mining techniques have been increasingly used for water quality analysis and prediction of the concentration and load of nitrogen pollutants instead of more traditional simulation methods. In this study, we tested the multilayer perceptron (MLP), k-nearest neighbor (k-NN), random forest, and reduced error pruning tree (REPTree) methods, along with the traditional linear regression, to predict nitrate levels based on long-term data from six watersheds with different land-use practices in the midwestern United States. Both the concentration and load results indicated that REPTree had the best performance, with an R2 of 0.61-0.85 and a relative absolute error of <75.8%. The different watershed types, however, influenced the performance of the data mining methods, where all four methods showed a higher accuracy for urban dominant watershed and lower accuracy for agricultural and forest watersheds. Out of these four methods, classification tree methods (REPTree and RF) performed better than cluster methods (MLP and k-NN) for agricultural and forested watersheds. Our results indicated that both the data structure based on the dominant land use and type of algorithmic method should be carefully considered for selecting a data mining method to predict nitrate concentration and load for a watershed.

Keywords: Data mining; Nitrate concentration; Water pollution; Watershed land use.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Data Mining
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Midwestern United States
  • Nitrates* / analysis
  • Water Quality


  • Nitrates