Abstract
This paper introduces the average predictability time (APT) for characterizing the overall predictability of a system. APT is the integral of a predictability measure over all lead times. The underlying predictability measure is based on the Mahalanobis metric, which is invariant to linear transformation of the prediction variables and hence gives results that are independent of the (arbitrary) basis set used to represent the state. The APT is superior to some integral time scales used to characterize the time scale of a random process because the latter vanishes in situations when it should not, whereas the APT converges to reasonable values. The APT also can be written in terms of the power spectrum, thereby clarifying the connection between predictability and the power spectrum. In essence, predictability is related to the width of spectral peaks, with strong, narrow peaks associated with high predictability and nearly flat spectra associated with low predictability. Closed form expressions for the APT for linear stochastic models are derived. For a given dynamical operator, the stochastic forcing that minimizes APT is one that allows transformation of the original stochastic model into a set of uncoupled, independent stochastic models. Loosely speaking, coupling enhances predictability. A rigorous upper bound on the predictability of linear stochastic models is derived, which clarifies the connection between predictability at short and long lead times, as well as the choice of norm for measuring error growth. Surprisingly, APT can itself be interpreted as the “total variance” of an alternative stochastic model, which means that generalized stability theory and dynamical systems theory can be used to understand APT. The APT can be decomposed into an uncorrelated set of components that maximize predictability time, analogous to the way principle component analysis decomposes variance. Part II of this paper develops a practical method for performing this decomposition and applies it to meteorological data.
Corresponding author address: Timothy DelSole, Center for Ocean–Land–Atmosphere Studies, 4041 Powder Mill Rd., Suite 302, Calverton, MD 20705. Email: delsole@cola.iges.org