Review of the ensemble Kalman filter for atmospheric data assimilation

P. L. Houtekamer, Fuqing Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

369 Scopus citations


This paper reviews the development of the ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) for atmospheric data assimilation. Particular attention is devoted to recent advances and current challenges. The distinguishing properties of three well-established variations of the EnKF algorithm are first discussed. Given the limited size of the ensemble and the unavoidable existence of errors whose origin is unknown (i.e., system error), various approaches to localizing the impact of observations and to accounting for these errors have been proposed. However, challenges remain; for example, with regard to localization of multiscale phenomena (both in time and space). For the EnKF in general, but higher-resolution applications in particular, it is desirable to use a short assimilation window. This motivates a focus on approaches for maintaining balance during the EnKF update. Also discussed are limited-area EnKF systems, in particular with regard to the assimilation of radar data and applications to tracking severe storms and tropical cyclones. It seems that relatively less attention has been paid to optimizing EnKF assimilation of satellite radiance observations, the growing volume of which has been instrumental in improving global weather predictions. There is also a tendency at various centers to investigate and implement hybrid systems that take advantage of both the ensemble and the variational data assimilation approaches; this poses additional challenges and it is not clear how it will evolve. It is concluded that, despite more than 10 years of operational experience, there are still many unresolved issues that could benefit from further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4489-4532
Number of pages44
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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