This paper describes the development of an advanced ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF)-based ocean data assimilation system for prediction of the evolution of the loop current in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). The system integrates the Data Assimilation Research Testbed (DART) assimilation package with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ocean general circulation model (MITgcm). The MITgcm/DART system supports the assimilation of a wide range of ocean observations and uses an ensemble approach to solve the nonlinear assimilation problems. The GoM prediction system was implemented with an eddy-resolving 1/10th degree configuration of the MITgcm. Assimilation experiments were performed over a 6-month period between May and October during a strong loop current event in 1999. The model was sequentially constrained with weekly satellite sea surface temperature and altimetry data. Experiments results suggest that the ensemble-based assimilation system shows a high predictive skill in the GoM, with estimated ensemble spread mainly concentrated around the front of the loop current. Further analysis of the system estimates demonstrates that the ensemble assimilation accurately reproduces the observed features without imposing any negative impact on the dynamical balance of the system. Results from sensitivity experiments with respect to the ensemble filter parameters are also presented and discussed.
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