Data assimilation experiments inform monitoring needs for near-term ecological forecasts in a eutrophic reservoir
Ecosystems around the globe are experiencing increased variability due to land use and climate change. In response, ecologists are increasingly using near-term, iterative ecological forecasts to predict how ecosystems will change in the future. To date, many near-term, iterative forecasting systems have been developed using high temporal frequency (minute to hourly resolution) data streams for assimilation. However, this approach may be cost-prohibitive or impossible for forecasting ecological variables that lack high-frequency sensors or have high data latency (i.e., a delay before data are available for modeling after collection). To explore the effects of data assimilation frequency on forecast skill, we developed water temperature forecasts for a eutrophic drinking water reservoir and conducted data assimilation experiments by selectively withholding observations to examine the effect of data availability on forecast accuracy. We used in-situ sensors, manually collected data, and a calibrated water quality ecosystem model driven by forecasted weather data to generate future water temperature forecasts using FLARE (Forecasting Lake And Reservoir Ecosystems), an open-source water quality forecasting system. We tested the effect of daily, weekly, fortnightly, and monthly data assimilation on the skill of 1 to 35-day-ahead water temperature forecasts. We found that forecast skill varied depending on the season, forecast horizon, depth, and data assimilation frequency, but overall forecast performance was high, with a mean 1-day-ahead forecast root mean square error (RMSE) of 0.94°C, mean 7-day RMSE of 1.33°C, and mean 35-day RMSE of 2.15°C. Aggregated across the year, daily data assimilation yielded the most skillful forecasts at 1-7-day-ahead horizons, weekly data assimilation resulted in the most skillful forecasts at 8-35-day-ahead horizons. Within a year, daily to fortnightly data assimilation substantially outperformed monthly data assimilation in the stratified summer period, whereas all data assimilation frequencies resulted in skillful forecasts across depths in the mixed spring/autumn periods for shorter forecast horizons. Our results suggest that lower-frequency data (i.e., weekly) may be adequate for developing accurate forecasts in some applications, further enabling the development of forecasts broadly across ecosystems and ecological variables without high-frequency sensor data.