Articles | Volume 10, issue 2
Brief communication
06 Apr 2016
Brief communication |  | 06 Apr 2016

Brief communication: The challenge and benefit of using sea ice concentration satellite data products with uncertainty estimates in summer sea ice data assimilation

Qinghua Yang, Martin Losch, Svetlana N. Losa, Thomas Jung, Lars Nerger, and Thomas Lavergne

Abstract. Data assimilation experiments that aim at improving summer ice concentration and thickness forecasts in the Arctic are carried out. The data assimilation system used is based on the MIT general circulation model (MITgcm) and a local singular evolutive interpolated Kalman (LSEIK) filter. The effect of using sea ice concentration satellite data products with appropriate uncertainty estimates is assessed by three different experiments using sea ice concentration data of the European Space Agency Sea Ice Climate Change Initiative (ESA SICCI) which are provided with a per-grid-cell physically based sea ice concentration uncertainty estimate. The first experiment uses the constant uncertainty, the second one imposes the provided SICCI uncertainty estimate, while the third experiment employs an elevated minimum uncertainty to account for a representation error. Using the observation uncertainties that are provided with the data improves the ensemble mean forecast of ice concentration compared to using constant data errors, but the thickness forecast, based on the sparsely available data, appears to be degraded. Further investigating this lack of positive impact on the sea ice thicknesses leads us to a fundamental mismatch between the satellite-based radiometric concentration and the modeled physical ice concentration in summer: the passive microwave sensors used for deriving the vast majority of the sea ice concentration satellite-based observations cannot distinguish ocean water (in leads) from melt water (in ponds). New data assimilation methodologies that fully account or mitigate this mismatch must be designed for successful assimilation of sea ice concentration satellite data in summer melt conditions. In our study, thickness forecasts can be slightly improved by adopting the pragmatic solution of raising the minimum observation uncertainty to inflate the data error and ensemble spread.

Short summary
We assimilate the summer SICCI sea ice concentration data with an ensemble-based Kalman Filter. Comparing with the approach using a constant data uncertainty, the sea ice concentration estimates are further improved when the SICCI-provided uncertainty are taken into account, but the sea ice thickness cannot be improved. We find the data assimilation system cannot give a reasonable ensemble spread of sea ice concentration and thickness if the provided uncertainty are directly used.