Publications by Sam Hatfield

Improving weather forecast skill through reduced precision data assimilation

Monthly Weather Review American Meteorological Society 146 (2017) 49-62

S Hatfield, AC Subramanian, TN Palmer, PD Düben

A new approach for improving the accuracy of data assimilation, by trading numerical precision for ensemble size, is introduced. Data assimilation is inherently uncertain due to the use of noisy observations and imperfect models. Thus, the larger rounding errors incurred from reducing precision may be within the tolerance of the system. Lower precision arithmetic is cheaper, and so by reducing precision in ensemble data assimilation, computational resources can be redistributed towards, for example, a larger ensemble size. Because larger ensembles provide a better estimate of the underlying distribution and are less reliant on covariance inflation and localization, lowering precision could actually permit an improvement in the accuracy of weather forecasts. Here, this idea is tested on an ensemble data assimilation system comprising the Lorenz ’96 toy atmospheric model and the ensemble square root filter. The system is run at double, single and half precision (the latter using an emulation tool), and the performance of each precision is measured through mean error statistics and rank histograms. The sensitivity of these results to the observation error and the length of the observation window are addressed. Then, by reinvesting the saved computational resources from reducing precision into the ensemble size, assimilation error can be reduced for (hypothetically) no extra cost. This results in increased forecasting skill, with respect to double precision assimilation.

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