Objectified quantification of uncertainties in Bayesian atmospheric inversions
Abstract. Classical Bayesian atmospheric inversions process atmospheric observations and prior emissions, the two being connected by an observation operator picturing mainly the atmospheric transport. These inversions rely on prescribed errors in the observations, the prior emissions and the observation operator. When data pieces are sparse, inversion results are very sensitive to the prescribed error distributions, which are not accurately known. The classical Bayesian framework experiences difficulties in quantifying the impact of mis-specified error distributions on the optimized fluxes. In order to cope with this issue, we rely on recent research results to enhance the classical Bayesian inversion framework through a marginalization on a large set of plausible errors that can be prescribed in the system. The marginalization consists in computing inversions for all possible error distributions weighted by the probability of occurrence of the error distributions. The posterior distribution of the fluxes calculated by the marginalization is not explicitly describable. As a consequence, we carry out a Monte Carlo sampling based on an approximation of the probability of occurrence of the error distributions. This approximation is deduced from the well-tested method of the maximum likelihood estimation. Thus, the marginalized inversion relies on an automatic objectified diagnosis of the error statistics, without any prior knowledge about the matrices. It robustly accounts for the uncertainties on the error distributions, contrary to what is classically done with frozen expert-knowledge error statistics. Some expert knowledge is still used in the method for the choice of an emission aggregation pattern and of a sampling protocol in order to reduce the computation cost. The relevance and the robustness of the method is tested on a case study: the inversion of methane surface fluxes at the mesoscale with virtual observations on a realistic network in Eurasia. Observing system simulation experiments are carried out with different transport patterns, flux distributions and total prior amounts of emitted methane. The method proves to consistently reproduce the known "truth" in most cases, with satisfactory tolerance intervals. Additionally, the method explicitly provides influence scores and posterior correlation matrices. An in-depth interpretation of the inversion results is then possible. The more objective quantification of the influence of the observations on the fluxes proposed here allows us to evaluate the impact of the observation network on the characterization of the surface fluxes. The explicit correlations between emission aggregates reveal the mis-separated regions, hence the typical temporal and spatial scales the inversion can analyse. These scales are consistent with the chosen aggregation patterns.