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Resolving structural uncertainty in natural resources management using POMDP approaches

March 10, 2011

In recent years there has been a growing focus on the uncertainties of natural resources management, and the importance of accounting for uncertainty in assessing management effectiveness. This paper focuses on uncertainty in resource management in terms of discrete-state Markov decision processes (MDP) under structural uncertainty and partial observability. It describes the treatment of structural uncertainty with approaches developed for partially observable resource systems. In particular, I show how value iteration for partially observable MDPs (POMDP) can be extended to structurally uncertain MDPs. A key difference between these process classes is that structurally uncertain MDPs require the tracking of system state as well as a probability structure for the structure uncertainty, whereas with POMDPs require only a probability structure for the observation uncertainty. The added complexity of the optimization problem under structural uncertainty is compensated by reduced dimensionality in the search for optimal strategy. A solution algorithm for structurally uncertain processes is outlined for a simple example in conservation biology. By building on the conceptual framework developed for POMDPs, natural resource analysts and decision makers who confront structural uncertainties in natural resources can take advantage of the rapid growth in POMDP methods and approaches, and thereby produce better conservation strategies over a larger class of resource problems.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2011
Title Resolving structural uncertainty in natural resources management using POMDP approaches
DOI 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2010.12.015
Authors B.K. Williams
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Modelling
Series Number
Index ID 70036993
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization