Smoothing error pitfalls
Atmospheric Measurement Techniques Discussions
The difference due to the content of a priori information between a constrained retrieval and the true atmospheric state is usually represented by the so-called smoothing error. In this paper it is shown that the concept of the smoothing error is questionable because it is not compliant with Gaussian error propagation. The reason for this is that the smoothing error does not represent the expected deviation of the retrieval from the true state but the expected deviation of the retrieval from
... atmospheric state sampled on an arbitrary grid, which is itself a smoothed representation of the true state. The idea of a sufficiently fine sampling of this reference atmospheric state is untenable because atmospheric variability occurs on all scales, implying that there is no limit beyond which the sampling is fine enough. Even the idealization of infinitesimally fine sampling of the reference state does not help because the smoothing error is applied to quantities which are only defined in a statistical sense, which implies that a finite volume of sufficient spatial extent is needed to meaningfully talk about temperature or concentration. Smoothing differences, however, which play a role when measurements are compared, are still a useful quantity if the involved a priori covariance matrix has been evaluated on the comparison grid rather than resulting from interpolation. This is, because the undefined component of the smoothing error, which is the effect of smoothing implied by the finite grid on which the measurements are compared, cancels out when the difference is calculated.