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Toward the Use of Altimetry for Operational Seasonal Forecasting

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  • 1 European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Shinfield Park, Reading, United Kingdom
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Abstract

The TOPEX/Poseidon and ERS-1/2 satellites have now been observing sea level anomalies for a continuous time span of more than 6 yr. These sea level observations are first compared with tide gauge data and then assimilated into an ocean model that is used to initialize coupled ocean–atmosphere forecasts with a lead time of 6 months. Ocean analyses in which altimeter data are assimilated are compared with those from a no-assimilation experiment and with analyses in which subsurface temperature observations are assimilated. Analyses with altimeter data show variations of upper-ocean heat content similar to analyses using subsurface observations, whereas the ocean model has large errors when no data are assimilated. However, obtaining good results from the assimilation of altimeter data is not straightforward: it is essential to add a good mean sea level to the observed anomalies, to filter the sea level observations appropriately, to start the analyses from realistic initial temperature and salinity fields, and to assign appropriate weights for the analyzed increments.

To assess the impact of altimeter data assimilation on the coupled system, ensemble hindcasts are initialized from ocean analyses in which either no data, subsurface temperatures, or sea level observations were assimilated. For each kind of ocean analysis, a five-member ensemble is started every 3 months from January 1993 to October 1997, adding up to 100 forecasts for each type. The predicted SST anomalies for the equatorial Pacific are intercompared between the experiments and against observations. The predicted anomalies are on average closer to observed values when forecasts are initialized from the ocean analysis using altimeter data than when initialized from the no-assimilation ocean analysis, and forecast errors appear to be only slightly larger than for forecasts initialized from ocean analyses using subsurface temperatures. However, even based on 100 coupled forecasts, the distinction between the two experiments that benefit from data assimilation is barely statistically significant. The verification should still be considered preliminary, because the period covered by the forecasts is only 5 yr, which is too short properly to sample ENSO variability. It is, nonetheless, encouraging that altimeter assimilation can improve the forecast skill to a level comparable to that obtained from using Tropical Ocean Atmosphere–expendable bathythermograph data.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Joachim Segschneider, European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Shinfield Park, Reading RG2 9AX, United Kingdom.

Email: j.segschneider&commat⊇mwf.int

Abstract

The TOPEX/Poseidon and ERS-1/2 satellites have now been observing sea level anomalies for a continuous time span of more than 6 yr. These sea level observations are first compared with tide gauge data and then assimilated into an ocean model that is used to initialize coupled ocean–atmosphere forecasts with a lead time of 6 months. Ocean analyses in which altimeter data are assimilated are compared with those from a no-assimilation experiment and with analyses in which subsurface temperature observations are assimilated. Analyses with altimeter data show variations of upper-ocean heat content similar to analyses using subsurface observations, whereas the ocean model has large errors when no data are assimilated. However, obtaining good results from the assimilation of altimeter data is not straightforward: it is essential to add a good mean sea level to the observed anomalies, to filter the sea level observations appropriately, to start the analyses from realistic initial temperature and salinity fields, and to assign appropriate weights for the analyzed increments.

To assess the impact of altimeter data assimilation on the coupled system, ensemble hindcasts are initialized from ocean analyses in which either no data, subsurface temperatures, or sea level observations were assimilated. For each kind of ocean analysis, a five-member ensemble is started every 3 months from January 1993 to October 1997, adding up to 100 forecasts for each type. The predicted SST anomalies for the equatorial Pacific are intercompared between the experiments and against observations. The predicted anomalies are on average closer to observed values when forecasts are initialized from the ocean analysis using altimeter data than when initialized from the no-assimilation ocean analysis, and forecast errors appear to be only slightly larger than for forecasts initialized from ocean analyses using subsurface temperatures. However, even based on 100 coupled forecasts, the distinction between the two experiments that benefit from data assimilation is barely statistically significant. The verification should still be considered preliminary, because the period covered by the forecasts is only 5 yr, which is too short properly to sample ENSO variability. It is, nonetheless, encouraging that altimeter assimilation can improve the forecast skill to a level comparable to that obtained from using Tropical Ocean Atmosphere–expendable bathythermograph data.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Joachim Segschneider, European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Shinfield Park, Reading RG2 9AX, United Kingdom.

Email: j.segschneider&commat⊇mwf.int

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