Bounds on the performance of particle filters

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 2:40 PM
Chris Snyder, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, United States and Thomas Bengtsson, Genentech, South San Francisco, CA, United States
Particle filters rely on sequential importance sampling and it is well known that their performance can depend strongly on the choice of proposal distribution from which new ensemble members (particles) are drawn. The use of clever proposals has seen substantial recent interest in the geophysical literature, with schemes such as the implicit particle filter and the equivalent-weights particle filter. A persistent issue with all particle filters is degeneracy of the importance weights, where one or a few particles receive almost all the weight. Considering single-step filters such as the equivalent-weights or implicit particle filters (that is, those in which the particles and weights at time tk depend only on the observations at tk and the particles and weights at tk-1), two results provide a bound on their performance. First, the optimal proposal minimizes the variance of the importance weights not only over draws of the particles at tk, but also over draws from the joint proposal for tk-1 and tk. This shows that a particle filter using the optimal proposal will have minimal degeneracy relative to all other single-step filters. Second, the asymptotic results of Bengtsson et al. (2008) and Snyder et al. (2008) also hold rigorously for the optimal proposal in the case of linear, Gaussian systems. The number of particles necessary to avoid degeneracy must increase exponentially with the variance of the incremental importance weights. In the simplest examples, that variance is proportional to the dimension of the system, though in general it depends on other factors, including the characteristics of the observing network. A rough estimate indicates that single-step particle filter applied to global numerical weather prediction will require very large numbers of particles.