Observation impact in data assimilation: the effect of non-Gaussian observation error.
To link to this article DOI: 10.3402/tellusa.v65i0.20035
Data assimilation methods which avoid the assumption of Gaussian error statistics are being developed for geoscience applications. We investigate how the relaxation of the Gaussian assumption affects the impact observations have within the assimilation process. The effect of non-Gaussian observation error (described by the likelihood) is compared to previously published work studying the effect of a non-Gaussian prior. The observation impact is measured in three ways: the sensitivity of the analysis to the observations, the mutual information, and the relative entropy. These three measures have all been studied in the case of Gaussian data assimilation and, in this case, have a known analytical form. It is shown that the analysis sensitivity can also be derived analytically when at least one of the prior or likelihood is Gaussian. This derivation shows an interesting asymmetry in the relationship between analysis sensitivity and analysis error covariance when the two different sources of non-Gaussian structure are considered (likelihood vs. prior). This is illustrated for a simple scalar case and used to infer the effect of the non-Gaussian structure on mutual information and relative entropy, which are more natural choices of metric in non-Gaussian data assimilation. It is concluded that approximating non-Gaussian error distributions as Gaussian can give significantly erroneous estimates of observation impact. The degree of the error depends not only on the nature of the non-Gaussian structure, but also on the metric used to measure the observation impact and the source of the non-Gaussian structure.