Articles | Volume 18, issue 7
Research article
04 Jul 2014
Research article |  | 04 Jul 2014

Kalman filters for assimilating near-surface observations into the Richards equation – Part 1: Retrieving state profiles with linear and nonlinear numerical schemes

G. B. Chirico, H. Medina, and N. Romano

Abstract. This paper examines the potential of different algorithms, based on the Kalman filtering approach, for assimilating near-surface observations into a one-dimensional Richards equation governing soil water flow in soil. Our specific objectives are: (i) to compare the efficiency of different Kalman filter algorithms in retrieving matric pressure head profiles when they are implemented with different numerical schemes of the Richards equation; (ii) to evaluate the performance of these algorithms when nonlinearities arise from the nonlinearity of the observation equation, i.e. when surface soil water content observations are assimilated to retrieve matric pressure head values. The study is based on a synthetic simulation of an evaporation process from a homogeneous soil column. Our first objective is achieved by implementing a Standard Kalman Filter (SKF) algorithm with both an explicit finite difference scheme (EX) and a Crank-Nicolson (CN) linear finite difference scheme of the Richards equation. The Unscented (UKF) and Ensemble Kalman Filters (EnKF) are applied to handle the nonlinearity of a backward Euler finite difference scheme. To accomplish the second objective, an analogous framework is applied, with the exception of replacing SKF with the Extended Kalman Filter (EKF) in combination with a CN numerical scheme, so as to handle the nonlinearity of the observation equation. While the EX scheme is computationally too inefficient to be implemented in an operational assimilation scheme, the retrieval algorithm implemented with a CN scheme is found to be computationally more feasible and accurate than those implemented with the backward Euler scheme, at least for the examined one-dimensional problem. The UKF appears to be as feasible as the EnKF when one has to handle nonlinear numerical schemes or additional nonlinearities arising from the observation equation, at least for systems of small dimensionality as the one examined in this study.