Nonlinear stability and ergodicity of ensemble based Kalman filters

Xin T. Tong, Andrew J. Majda, David Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) and ensemble square root filter (ESRF) are data assimilation methods used to combine high dimensional, nonlinear dynamical models with observed data. Despite their widespread usage in climate science and oil reservoir simulation, very little is known about the long-time behavior of these methods and why they are effective when applied with modest ensemble sizes in large dimensional turbulent dynamical systems. By following the basic principles of energy dissipation and controllability of filters, this paper establishes a simple, systematic and rigorous framework for the nonlinear analysis of EnKF and ESRF with arbitrary ensemble size, focusing on the dynamical properties of boundedness and geometric ergodicity. The time uniform boundedness guarantees that the filter estimate will not diverge to machine infinity in finite time, which is a potential threat for EnKF and ESQF known as the catastrophic filter divergence. Geometric ergodicity ensures in addition that the filter has a unique invariant measure and that initialization errors will dissipate exponentially in time. We establish these results by introducing a natural notion of observable energy dissipation. The time uniform bound is achieved through a simple Lyapunov function argument, this result applies to systems with complete observations and strong kinetic energy dissipation, but also to concrete examples with incomplete observations. With the Lyapunov function argument established, the geometric ergodicity is obtained by verifying the controllability of the filter processes; in particular, such analysis for ESQF relies on a careful multivariate perturbation analysis of the covariance eigen-structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number657
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 25 2016


  • Lyapunov function
  • catastrophic filter divergence
  • ensemble Kalman filter
  • filter stability
  • geometric ergodicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Applied Mathematics


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