Assessment of the most appropriate groundwater conditioning factors (GCFs) is essential when performing analyses for groundwater potential mapping. For this reason, in this work, we look at three statistical factor analysis methods—Variance Inflation Factor (VIF), Chi-Square Factor Optimization, and Gini Importance—to measure the significance of GCFs. From a total of 15 frequently used GCFs, 11 most effective ones (i.e., altitude, slope angle, plan curvature, profile curvature, topographic wetness index, distance from river, distance from fault, river density, fault density, land use, and lithology) were finally selected. In addition, 917 spring locations were identified and used to train and test three machine learning algorithms, namely Mixture Discriminant Analysis (MDA), Linear Discriminant Analysis (LDA) and Random Forest (RF). The resultant trained models were then applied for groundwater potential prediction and mapping in the Haraz basin of Mazandaran province, Iran. MDA has been successfully applied for soil erosion and landslide mapping, but has not yet been fully explored for groundwater potential mapping (GPM). Although other discriminant methods, such as LDA, exist, MDA is worth exploring due to its capability to model multivariate nonlinear relationships between variables; it also undertakes a mixture of unobserved subclasses with regularization of non-linear decision boundaries, which could potentially provide more accurate classification. For the validation, areas under Receiver Operating Characteristics (ROC) curves (AUC) were calculated for the three algorithms. RF performed better with AUC value of 84.4%, while MDA and LDA yielded 75.2% and 74.9%, respectively. Although MDA performance is lower than RF, the result is satisfactory, because it is within the acceptable standard of environmental modeling. The outcome of factor analysis and groundwater maps emphasizes on optimization of multicolinearity factors for faster spatial modeling and provides valuable information for government agencies and private sectors to effectively manage groundwater in the region.
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