Articles | Volume 21, issue 6
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 2637–2647, 2017
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 2637–2647, 2017

Research article 02 Jun 2017

Research article | 02 Jun 2017

Role of forcing uncertainty and background model error characterization in snow data assimilation

Sujay V. Kumar1, Jiarui Dong2, Christa D. Peters-Lidard3, David Mocko4,1, and Breogán Gómez5 Sujay V. Kumar et al.
  • 1Hydrological Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA
  • 2I.M. Systems Group Inc., Environmental Modeling Center, NOAA NCEP, College Park, MD, USA
  • 3Hydrosphere, Biosphere and Geophysics, Earth Science Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA
  • 4Science Applications International Corporation, McLean, VA, USA
  • 5Research to Operations, Met Office, Exeter, UK

Abstract. Accurate specification of the model error covariances in data assimilation systems is a challenging issue. Ensemble land data assimilation methods rely on stochastic perturbations of input forcing and model prognostic fields for developing representations of input model error covariances. This article examines the limitations of using a single forcing dataset for specifying forcing uncertainty inputs for assimilating snow depth retrievals. Using an idealized data assimilation experiment, the article demonstrates that the use of hybrid forcing input strategies (either through the use of an ensemble of forcing products or through the added use of the forcing climatology) provide a better characterization of the background model error, which leads to improved data assimilation results, especially during the snow accumulation and melt-time periods. The use of hybrid forcing ensembles is then employed for assimilating snow depth retrievals from the AMSR2 instrument over two domains in the continental USA with different snow evolution characteristics. Over a region near the Great Lakes, where the snow evolution tends to be ephemeral, the use of hybrid forcing ensembles provides significant improvements relative to the use of a single forcing dataset. Over the Colorado headwaters characterized by large snow accumulation, the impact of using the forcing ensemble is less prominent and is largely limited to the snow transition time periods. The results of the article demonstrate that improving the background model error through the use of a forcing ensemble enables the assimilation system to better incorporate the observational information.

Short summary
Data assimilation deals with the blending of model forecasts and observations based on their relative errors. This paper addresses the importance of accurately representing the errors in the model forecasts for skillful data assimilation performance.