EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Compressing atmospheric data into its real information content

Milan Klöwer1, Miha Razinger2, Juan J. Dominguez2, Peter D. Düben2, and Tim Palmer1
Milan Klöwer et al.
  • 1Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, UK (
  • 2European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Reading, UK

Hundreds of petabytes are produced annually at weather and climate forecast centres worldwide. Compression is essential to reduce storage and to facilitate data sharing. Current techniques do not distinguish the real from the false information in data, leaving the level of meaningful precision unassessed or often subjectively chosen. Many of the trailing mantissa bits in floating-point numbers occur independently with high information entropy, reducing the efficiency of compression algorithms. Here we define the bitwise real information content from information theory as the mutual information of bits in adjacent grid points. The analysis automatically determines a precision from the data itself, based on the separation of real and false information bits. Applied to data from the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS), most variables contain fewer than 7  bits of real information per value and are highly compressible due to spatio-temporal correlation. Rounding bits without real information to zero facilitates lossless compression algorithms and encodes the uncertainty within the data itself. The removal of bits with high entropy but low real information allows us to minimize information loss but maximize the efficiency of the compression algorithms. All CAMS data are 17x compressed in the longitudinal dimension and relative to 64-bit floats, while preserving 99% of real information. Combined with four-dimensional compression using the floating-point compressor Zfp, factors beyond 60x are achieved, with no significant increase of the forecast error. For multidimensional compression it is generally advantageous to include as many highly correlated dimensions as possible. A data compression Turing test is proposed to optimize compressibility while minimizing information loss for the end use of weather and climate forecast data. 

How to cite: Klöwer, M., Razinger, M., Dominguez, J. J., Düben, P. D., and Palmer, T.: Compressing atmospheric data into its real information content, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-3109,, 2022.