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Variational Assimilation of Meteorological Observations In The Lower Atmosphere: A Tutorial On How It Works


Data assimilation combines atmospheric measurements with knowledge of atmospheric behavior as codified in computer models, thus producing a ``best'' estimate of current conditions that is consistent with both information sources. The four major challenges in data assimilation are: (1) to generate an initial state for a computer forecast that has the same mass-wind balance as the assimilating model, (2) to deal with the common problem of highly non-uniform distribution of observations, (3) to exploit the value of proxy observations (of parameters that are not carried explicitly in the model), and (4) to determine the statistical error properties of observing systems and numerical model alike so as to give each information source the proper weight. Variational data assimilation is practiced at major meteorological centers around the world. It is based upon multivariate linear regression, dating back to Gauss, and Variational calculus. At the heart of the method is the minimization of a cost function, which guarantees that the analyzed fields will closely resemble both the background field (a short forecast containing a priori information about the atmospheric state) and current observations. The size of the errors in the background and the observations (the latter, arising from measurement and non-representativeness) determine how close the analysis is to each basic source of information. Three-dimensional variational (3DVAR) assimilation provides a logical framework for incorporating the error information (in the form of variances and spatial covariances) and deals directly with the problem of proxy observations. 4DVAR assimilation is an extension of 3DVAR assimilation that includes the time dimension; it attempts to find an evolution of model states that most closely matches observations taken over a time interval measured in hours. Both 3DVAR and, especially, 4DVAR assimilation require very large computing resources. Researchers are trying to find more efficient numerical solutions to these problems. Variational assimilation is applicable in the upper atmosphere, but practical implementation demands accurate modeling of the physical processes that occur at high altitudes and multiple sources of observations. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.}

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Fiscal Year
Publication Name
Journal of Atmospheric and Solar Terrestrial Physics
Published On
January 01, 2000
Publisher Name
Pergamon Elsevier Science Ltd
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