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Uncertainty information in climate data records from Earth observation

Merchant, C. J. ORCID:, Paul, F., Popp, T., Ablain, M., Bontemps, S., Defourny, P., Hollmann, R., Lavergne, T., Laeng, A., de Leeuw, G., Mittaz, J., Poulsen, C., Povey, A. C., Reuter, M., Sathyendranath, S., Sandven, S., Sofeiva, V. F. and Wagner, W. (2017) Uncertainty information in climate data records from Earth observation. Earth System Science Data, 9 (2). pp. 511-527. ISSN 1866-3516

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To link to this item DOI: 10.5194/essd-9-511-2017


Climate data records (CDRs) derived from Earth observation (EO) should include rigorous uncertainty information, to support application of the data in policy, climate modelling and numerical weather prediction reanalysis. Uncertainty, error and quality are distinct concepts, and CDR products should follow international norms for presenting quantified uncertainty. Ideally, uncertainty should be quantified per datum in a CDR, and the uncertainty estimates should be able to discriminate more and less certain data with confidence. In this case, flags for data quality should not duplicate uncertainty information, but instead describe complementary information (such as the confidence held in the uncertainty estimate provided, or indicators of conditions violating retrieval assumptions). Errors have many sources and some are correlated across a wide range of time and space scales. Error effects that contribute negligibly to the total uncertainty in a single satellite measurement can be the dominant sources of uncertainty in a CDR on large space and long time scales that are highly relevant for some climate applications. For this reason, identifying and characterizing the relevant sources of uncertainty for CDRs is particularly challenging. Characterisation of uncertainty caused by a given error effect involves assessing the magnitude of the effect, the shape of the error distribution, and the propagation of the uncertainty to the geophysical variable in the CDR accounting for its error correlation properties. Uncertainty estimates can and should be validated as part of CDR validation, where possible. These principles are quite general, but the form of uncertainty information appropriate to different essential climate variables (ECVs) is highly variable, as confirmed by a quick review of the different approaches to uncertainty taken across different ECVs in the European Space Agency’s Climate Change Initiative. User requirements for uncertainty information can conflict with each other, and again a variety of solutions and compromises are possible. The concept of an ensemble CDR as a simple means of communicating rigorous uncertainty information to users is discussed. Our review concludes by providing eight recommendations for good practice in providing and communicating uncertainty in EO-based climate data records.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:69384
Publisher:Copernicus Publications


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