Paleoclimate reconstruction based on assimilation of proxy observations requires specification of the control variables and their background statistics. As opposed to numerical weather prediction (NWP), which is mostly an initial condition problem, the main source of error growth in deterministic Earth system models (ESMs) regarding the model low-frequency response comes from errors in other inputs: parameters for the small-scale physics, as well as forcing and boundary conditions. Also, comprehensive ESMs are non-linear and only a few ensemble members can be run in current high-performance computers. Under these conditions we evaluate two assimilation schemes, which (a) count on iterations to deal with non-linearity and (b) are based on low-dimensional control vectors to reduce the computational need. The practical implementation would assume that the ESM has been previously globally tuned with current observations and that for a given situation there is previous knowledge of the most sensitive inputs (given corresponding uncertainties), which should be selected as control variables. The low dimension of the control vector allows for using full-rank covariances and resorting to finite-difference sensitivities (FDSs). The schemes are then an FDS implementation of the iterative Kalman smoother (FDS-IKS, a Gauss–Newton scheme) and a so-called FDS-multistep Kalman smoother (FDS-MKS, based on repeated assimilation of the observations). We describe the schemes and evaluate the analysis step for a data assimilation window in two numerical experiments: (a) a simple 1-D energy balance model (Ebm1D; which has an adjoint code) with present-day surface air temperature from the NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data as a target and (b) a multi-decadal synthetic case with the Community Earth System Model (CESM v1.2, with no adjoint). In the Ebm1D experiment, the FDS-IKS converges to the same parameters and cost function values as a 4D-Var scheme. For similar iterations to the FDS-IKS, the FDS-MKS results in slightly higher cost function values, which are still substantially lower than those of an ensemble transform Kalman filter (ETKF). In the CESM experiment, we include an ETKF with Gaussian anamorphosis (ETKF-GA) implementation as a potential non-linear assimilation alternative. For three iterations, both FDS schemes obtain cost functions values that are close between them and (with about half the computational cost) lower than those of the ETKF and ETKF-GA (with similar cost function values). Overall, the FDS-IKS seems more adequate for the problem, with the FDS-MKS potentially more useful to damp increments in early iterations of the FDS-IKS.

- Abstract
- Introduction
- Assimilation schemes
- Experiment 1: 1-D energy balance model
- Experiment 2: CESM
- Conclusions
- Code availability
- Appendix A: Experiment 1: convergence analysis for finite-difference schemes
- Appendix B: Experiment 2
- Author contributions
- Competing interests
- Acknowledgements
- References