Balancing aggregation and smoothing errors in inverse models
Abstract. Inverse models use observations of a system (observation vector) to quantify the variables driving that system (state vector) by statistical optimization. When the observation vector is large, such as with satellite data, selecting a suitable dimension for the state vector is a challenge. A state vector that is too large cannot be effectively constrained by the observations, leading to smoothing error. However, reducing the dimension of the state vector leads to aggregation error as prior relationships between state vector elements are imposed rather than optimized. Here we present a method for quantifying aggregation and smoothing errors as a function of state vector dimension, so that a suitable dimension can be selected by minimizing the combined error. Reducing the state vector within the aggregation error constraints can have the added advantage of enabling analytical solution to the inverse problem with full error characterization. We compare three methods for reducing the dimension of the state vector from its native resolution: (1) merging adjacent elements (grid coarsening), (2) clustering with principal component analysis (PCA), and (3) applying a Gaussian mixture model (GMM) with Gaussian pdfs as state vector elements on which the native-resolution state vector elements are projected using radial basis functions (RBFs). The GMM method leads to somewhat lower aggregation error than the other methods, but more importantly it retains resolution of major local features in the state vector while smoothing weak and broad features.