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Quantifying Uncertainties in Ocean Predictions

Lermusiaux, P.F.J., C.-S. Chiu, G.G. Gawarkiewicz, P. Abbot, A.R. Robinson, R.N. Miller, P.J. Haley, W.G. Leslie, S.J. Majumdar, A. Pang and F. Lekien, 2006. Quantifying Uncertainties in Ocean Predictions. Refereed invited manuscript. Oceanography, Special issue on "Advances in Computational Oceanography", T. Paluszkiewicz and S. Harper (Office of Naval Research), Eds., 19, 1, 92-105, doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2006.93.

A multitude of physical and biological processes occur in the ocean over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. Many of these processes are nonlinear and highly variable, and involve interactions across several scales and oceanic disciplines. For example, sound propagation is influenced by physical and biological properties of the water column and by the seabed. From observations and conservation laws, ocean scientists formulate models that aim to explain and predict dynamics of the sea. This formulation is intricate because it is challenging to observe the ocean on a sustained basis and to transform basic laws into generic but usable models. There are imperfections in both data and model estimates. It is important to quantify such uncertainties to understand limitations and identify the research needed to increase accuracies, which will lead to fundamental progress. There are several sources of uncertainties in ocean modeling. First, to simplify models (thereby reducing computational expenses), explicit calculations are only performed on a restricted range of spatial and temporal scales (referred to as the “scale window”) (Nihoul and Djenidi, 1998). Influences of scales outside this window are neglected, parameterized, or provided at boundaries. Such simplifications and scale reductions are a source of error. Second, uncertainties also arise from the limited knowledge of processes within the scale window, which leads to approximate representations or parameterizations. Third, ocean data are required for model initialization and parameter values; however, raw measurements are limited in coverage and accuracy, and they are often processed with the aim of extracting information within a predetermined scale window. Initial conditions and model parameters are thus inexact. Fourth, models of interactions between the ocean and Earth system are approximate and ocean boundary conditions are inexact. For example, effects of uncertain atmospheric fluxes can dominate oceanic uncertainty. Fifth, miscalculations occur due to numerical implementations. All of the above leads to differences between the actual values (unknown) and the measured or modeled values of physical, biological, and geo-acoustical fields and properties.