Hydrology and Earth System Sciences | Schalge et al. 
Combining numerical models, which simulate water and energy fluxes in the subsurface-land surface-atmosphere system in a physically consistent way, becomes increasingly important to understand and study fluxes at compartmental boundaries and interdependencies of states across these boundaries. Complete state evolutions generated by such models, when run at highest possible resolutions while incorporating as many processes as attainable, may be regarded as a proxy of the real world – a virtual reality – which can be used to test hypotheses on functioning of the coupled terrestrial system and may serve as source for virtual measurements to develop data-assimilation methods. Such simulation systems, however, face severe problems caused by the vastly different scales of the processes acting in the compartments of the terrestrial system. The present study is motivated by the development of cross-compartmental data-assimilation methods, which face the difficulty of data scarcity in the subsurface when applied to real data. With appropriate and realistic measurement operators, the virtual reality not only allows taking virtual observations in any part of the terrestrial system at any density, thus overcoming data-scarcity problems of real-world applications, but also provides full information about true states and parameters aimed to be reconstructed from the measurements by data assimilation. In the present study, we have used the Terrestrial Systems Modeling Platform TerrSysMP, which couples the meteorological model COSMO, the land-surface model CLM, and the subsurface model ParFlow, to set up the virtual reality for a regional terrestrial system roughly oriented at the Neckar catchment in southwest Germany. We find that the virtual reality is in many aspects quite close to real observations of the catchment concerning, e.g., atmospheric boundary-layer height, precipitation, and runoff. But also discrepancies become apparent both in the ability of such models to correctly simulate some processes – which still need improvement – and the realism of the results of some observation operators like the SMOS and SMAP sensors, when faced with model states. In a succeeding step, we will use the virtual reality to generate observations in all compartments of the system for coupled data assimilation. The data assimilation will rely on a coarsened and simplified version of the model system.
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