Advancing data assimilation in operational hydrologic forecasting: progresses, challenges, and emerging opportunities
Abstract. Data assimilation (DA) holds considerable potential for improving hydrologic predictions as demonstrated in numerous research studies. However, advances in hydrologic DA research have not been adequately or timely implemented in operational forecast systems to improve the skill of forecasts for better informed real-world decision making. This is due in part to a lack of mechanisms to properly quantify the uncertainty in observations and forecast models in real-time forecasting situations and to conduct the merging of data and models in a way that is adequately efficient and transparent to operational forecasters.
The need for effective DA of useful hydrologic data into the forecast process has become increasingly recognized in recent years. This motivated a hydrologic DA workshop in Delft, the Netherlands in November 2010, which focused on advancing DA in operational hydrologic forecasting and water resources management. As an outcome of the workshop, this paper reviews, in relevant detail, the current status of DA applications in both hydrologic research and operational practices, and discusses the existing or potential hurdles and challenges in transitioning hydrologic DA research into cost-effective operational forecasting tools, as well as the potential pathways and newly emerging opportunities for overcoming these challenges. Several related aspects are discussed, including (1) theoretical or mathematical aspects in DA algorithms, (2) the estimation of different types of uncertainty, (3) new observations and their objective use in hydrologic DA, (4) the use of DA for real-time control of water resources systems, and (5) the development of community-based, generic DA tools for hydrologic applications. It is recommended that cost-effective transition of hydrologic DA from research to operations should be helped by developing community-based, generic modeling and DA tools or frameworks, and through fostering collaborative efforts among hydrologic modellers, DA developers, and operational forecasters.