Insufficient model resolution is one source of model error in numerical weather predictions. Methods for parameterizing this error in ensemble data assimilations were explored here. Experiments were conducted with a 2-layer primitive equation model, where the assumed true state was a T127 forecast simulation. Ensemble data assimilations were performed with the same model at T31 resolution, assimilating imperfect observations drawn from the T127 forecast. By design, the magnitude of errors due to model truncation was much larger than the error growth due to initial condition uncertainty, making this a stringent test of the ability of an ensemblebased data assimilation to deal with model error. Two general methods, “covariance inflation” and “additive error,” were considered for parameterizing the model error at the resolved scales (T31 and larger) due to interaction with the unresolved scales (T32 to T127). Covariance inflation expanded the background forecast members’ deviations about the ensemble mean, while additive error added specially structured noise to each ensemble member forecast before the update step. The method of parameterizing this model error had a substantial effect on the accuracy of the ensemble data assimilation. Covariance inflation produced ensembles with analysis errors that were no lower than the analysis errors from 3-dimensional variational (3D-Var) assimilation, and for the method to avoid filter divergence, the assimilations had to be periodically reseeded. Covariance inflation uniformly expanded the model spread; however, the actual growth of model errors depended on the dynamics, growing proportionally more in the middle latitudes. The inappropriately uniform inflation progressively degradated the capacity of the ensemble to span the actual forecast error. The most accurate model error parameterization was an additive model error parameterization, which reduced the error difference between 3D-Var and a near-perfect assimilation system by ∼ 40%. In the lowest-error simulations, additive errors were parameterized using samples of model error from a time series of differences between T63 and T31 forecasts. Scaled samples of differences between model forecast states separated by 24 h were also tested as additive error parameterizations, as well as scaled samples of the T31 model state’s anomaly from the T31 model climatology. These latter two methods produced analyses that were progressively less accurate. The decrease in accuracy was likely due to their inappropriately long spatial correlation length scales.

Thomas M. Hamill and Jeffrey S. Whitaker