What is Sensitivity Analysis?#

According to Wikipedia, sensitivity analysis is “the study of how the uncertainty in the output of a mathematical model or system (numerical or otherwise) can be apportioned to different sources of uncertainty in its inputs.” The sensitivity of each input is often represented by a numeric value, called the sensitivity index. Sensitivity indices come in several forms:

  1. First-order indices: measures the contribution to the output variance by a single model input alone.

  2. Second-order indices: measures the contribution to the output variance caused by the interaction of two model inputs.

  3. Total-order index: measures the contribution to the output variance caused by a model input, including both its first-order effects (the input varying alone) and all higher-order interactions.

What is SALib?#

SALib is an open source library written in Python for performing sensitivity analyses. SALib provides a decoupled workflow, meaning it does not directly interface with the mathematical or computational model. Instead, SALib is responsible for generating the model inputs, using one of the sample functions, and computing the sensitivity indices from the model outputs, using one of the analyze functions. A typical sensitivity analysis using SALib follows four steps:

  1. Determine the model inputs (parameters) and their sample range.

  2. Run the sample function to generate the model inputs.

  3. Evaluate the model using the generated inputs, saving the model outputs.

  4. Run the analyze function on the outputs to compute the sensitivity indices.

SALib provides several sensitivity analysis methods, such as Sobol, Morris, and FAST. There are many factors that determine which method is appropriate for a specific application, which we will discuss later. However, for now, just remember that regardless of which method you choose, you need to use only two functions: sample and analyze. To demonstrate the use of SALib, we will walk you through a simple example.

An Example#

In this example, we will perform a Sobol’ sensitivity analysis of the Ishigami function (shown below) using the core SALib functions. The example is repeated in the next tutorial using an object-oriented interface which some may find easier to use.

The Ishigami function is commonly used to test uncertainty and sensitivity analysis methods because it exhibits strong nonlinearity and nonmonotonicity.

\[f(x) = \sin(x_1) + a \sin^2(x_2) + b x_3^4 \sin(x_1)\]

Importing SALib#

The first step is the import the necessary libraries. In SALib, the sample and analyze functions are stored in separate Python modules. For example, below we import the saltelli sample function and the sobol analyze function. We also import the Ishigami function, which is provided as a test function within SALib. Lastly, we import numpy, as it is used by SALib to store the model inputs and outputs in a matrix.

from SALib.sample import saltelli
from SALib.analyze import sobol
from SALib.test_functions import Ishigami
import numpy as np

Defining the Model Inputs#

Next, we must define the model inputs. The Ishigami function has three inputs, \(x_1, x_2, x_3\) where \(x_i \in [-\pi, \pi]\). In SALib, we define a dict defining the number of inputs, the names of the inputs, and the bounds on each input, as shown below.

problem = {
    'num_vars': 3,
    'names': ['x1', 'x2', 'x3'],
    'bounds': [[-3.14159265359, 3.14159265359],
               [-3.14159265359, 3.14159265359],
               [-3.14159265359, 3.14159265359]]

Generate Samples#

Next, we generate the samples. Since we are performing a Sobol’ sensitivity analysis, we need to generate samples using the Saltelli sampler, as shown below.

param_values = saltelli.sample(problem, 1024)

Here, param_values is a NumPy matrix. If we run param_values.shape, we see that the matrix is 8000 by 3. The Saltelli sampler generated 8000 samples. The Saltelli sampler generates \(N*(2D+2)\) samples, where in this example N is 1024 (the argument we supplied) and D is 3 (the number of model inputs). The keyword argument calc_second_order=False will exclude second-order indices, resulting in a smaller sample matrix with \(N*(D+2)\) rows instead.

Run Model#

As mentioned above, SALib is not involved in the evaluation of the mathematical or computational model. If the model is written in Python, then generally you will loop over each sample input and evaluate the model:

Y = np.zeros([param_values.shape[0]])

for i, X in enumerate(param_values):
    Y[i] = evaluate_model(X)

If the model is not written in Python, then the samples can be saved to a text file:

np.savetxt("param_values.txt", param_values)

Each line in param_values.txt is one input to the model. The output from the model should be saved to another file with a similar format: one output on each line. The outputs can then be loaded with:

Y = np.loadtxt("outputs.txt", float)

In this example, we are using the Ishigami function provided by SALib. We can evaluate these test functions as shown below:

Y = Ishigami.evaluate(param_values)

Perform Analysis#

With the model outputs loaded into Python, we can finally compute the sensitivity indices. In this example, we use sobol.analyze, which will compute first, second, and total-order indices.

Si = sobol.analyze(problem, Y)

Si is a Python dict with the keys "S1", "S2", "ST", "S1_conf", "S2_conf", and "ST_conf". The _conf keys store the corresponding confidence intervals, typically with a confidence level of 95%. Use the keyword argument print_to_console=True to print all indices. Or, we can print the individual values from Si as shown below.


[ 0.316832  0.443763 0.012203 ]

Here, we see that x1 and x2 exhibit first-order sensitivities but x3 appears to have no first-order effects.


[ 0.555860  0.441898   0.244675]

If the total-order indices are substantially larger than the first-order indices, then there is likely higher-order interactions occurring. We can look at the second-order indices to see these higher-order interactions:

print("x1-x2:", Si['S2'][0,1])
print("x1-x3:", Si['S2'][0,2])
print("x2-x3:", Si['S2'][1,2])

x1-x2: 0.0092542
x1-x3: 0.2381721
x2-x3: -0.0048877

We can see there are strong interactions between x1 and x3. Some computing error will appear in the sensitivity indices. For example, we observe a negative value for the x2-x3 index. Typically, these computing errors shrink as the number of samples increases.

The output can then be converted to a Pandas DataFrame for further analysis.

total_Si, first_Si, second_Si = Si.to_df()

# Note that if the sample was created with `calc_second_order=False`
# Then the second order sensitivities will not be returned
# total_Si, first_Si = Si.to_df()

Basic Plotting#

Basic plotting facilities are provided for convenience.


The plot() method returns matplotlib axes objects to allow later adjustment.

Another Example#

When the model you want to analyse depends on parameters that are not part of the sensitivity analysis, like position or time, the analysis can be performed for each time/position “bin” separately.

Consider the example of a parabola:

\[f(x) = a + b x^2\]

The parameters \(a\) and \(b\) will be subject to the sensitivity analysis, but \(x\) will be not.

We start with a set of imports:

import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

from SALib.sample import saltelli
from SALib.analyze import sobol

and define the parabola:

def parabola(x, a, b):
    """Return y = a + b*x**2."""
    return a + b*x**2

The dict describing the problem contains therefore only \(a\) and \(b\):

problem = {
    'num_vars': 2,
    'names': ['a', 'b'],
    'bounds': [[0, 1]]*2

The triad of sampling, evaluating and analysing becomes:

# sample
param_values = saltelli.sample(problem, 2**6)

# evaluate
x = np.linspace(-1, 1, 100)
y = np.array([parabola(x, *params) for params in param_values])

# analyse
sobol_indices = [sobol.analyze(problem, Y) for Y in y.T]

Note how we analysed for each \(x\) separately.

Now we can extract the first-order Sobol indices for each bin of \(x\) and plot:

S1s = np.array([s['S1'] for s in sobol_indices])

fig = plt.figure(figsize=(10, 6), constrained_layout=True)
gs = fig.add_gridspec(2, 2)

ax0 = fig.add_subplot(gs[:, 0])
ax1 = fig.add_subplot(gs[0, 1])
ax2 = fig.add_subplot(gs[1, 1])

for i, ax in enumerate([ax1, ax2]):
    ax.plot(x, S1s[:, i],
    ax.set_ylabel("First-order Sobol index")

    ax.set_ylim(0, 1.04)


    ax.legend(loc='upper right')

ax0.plot(x, np.mean(y, axis=0), label="Mean", color='black')

# in percent
prediction_interval = 95

                 np.percentile(y, 50 - prediction_interval/2., axis=0),
                 np.percentile(y, 50 + prediction_interval/2., axis=0),
                 alpha=0.5, color='black',
                 label=f"{prediction_interval} % prediction interval")

ax0.legend(title=r"$y=a+b\cdot x^2$",
           loc='upper center')._legend_box.align = "left"

With the help of the plots, we interpret the Sobol indices. At \(x=0\), the variation in \(y\) can be explained to 100 % by parameter \(a\) as the contribution to \(y\) from \(b x^2\) vanishes. With larger \(|x|\), the contribution to the variation from parameter \(b\) increases and the contribution from parameter \(a\) decreases.