Data Assimilation (DA) refers to the fusion of information from different sources, including priors, predictions of a numerical model, and snapshots of reality, in order to produce accurate description of the state of a physical system of interest. DA research is of increasing interest for a wide range of fields including geoscience, numerical weather forecasts, atmospheric composition predictions, oil reservoir simulations, and hydrology.

Two approaches have gained wide popularity for solving the DA problems, namely ensemble and variational approaches. The ensemble approach is rooted in statistical estimation theory and uses an ensemble of states to represent the underlying probability distributions. The variational approach, rooted in control theory, involves solving an optimization problem to obtain a single analysis as an estimate of the true state of the system of concern. The variational approach does not provide an inherent description of the uncertainty associated with the obtained analysis, however it is less sensitive to physical imbalances prevalent in the ensemble approach. Hybrid methodologies designed to harnesses the best of the two worlds are an on-going research topic.

Numerical experiments are an essential ingredient in the development of new DA algorithms. Implementation of numerical experiments for DA involves linear algebra routines, a numerical model along with time integration routines, and an assimilation algorithm. Currently available testing environments for DA applications are either very simplistic or very general, many are tied to specific models, and are usually completely written in a specific language. A researcher who wants to test a new algorithm with different numerical models written in different languages might have to re-implement his/her algorithm using the specific settings of each model. A unified testing environment for DA is important to enable researchers to explore different aspects of various filtering and smoothing algorithms with minimal coding effort.

The DA Research Section (DAReS) at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) provides DART as a community facility for ensemble filtering. The DART platform is currently the gold standard for ensemble-based Kalman filtering algorithm implementations. It is widely used in both research and operational settings, and interfaces to most important geophysical numerical models are available. DART employs a modular programming approach and adheres strictly to solid software engineering principles. DART has a long history, and is continuously well maintained; new ensemble-based Kalman filtering algorithms that appear in the literature are routinely added to its library. Moreover it gives access to practical, and well-established parallel algorithms. DART is, by design, very general in order to support operational settings with many types of geophysical models. Using DART requires a non-trivial learning overhead. The fact that DART is mainly written in Fortran makes it a very efficient testing platform, however this limits to some extent the ability to easily employ third party implementations of various components.

Matlab programs are often used to test new algorithmic ideas due to its ease of implementation. A popular set of Matlab tools for ensemble-based DA algorithms is provided by the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center (NERSC), with the code available from the web page A Matlab toolbox for uncertainty quantification (UQ) is UQLab. Matlab is generally a very useful environment for small-to-medium scale numerical experiments.

Python is a modern and popular scripting language that gives the power of reusing existing pieces of code via inheritance. Python is widely known to be a powerful scripting tool for scientific applications that can be used to glue legacy codes. This can be achieved by writing wrappers that can act as interfaces. Building wrappers around existing C, and Fortran code is a common practice in scientific research. Several automatic wrapper generation tools, such as SWIG and F2PY, are available to create proper interfaces between Python and low-level languages. While translating Matlab code to Python is a relatively easy task, one can call Matlab functions from Python using the Matlab Engine API. Moreover, Python is available on virtually all Linux, MacOS, and Windows platforms, and therefore Python software has excellent portability. When using Python instead of Fortran or C one generally trades some computational performance for programming productivity. The performance penalty in the scientific calculations is minimized by delegating computationally intensive tasks to compiled languages such as Fortran. This approach is followed by the scientific computing Python modules Numpy and Scipy. This allows to write scientific Python code that is computationally efficient.

DATeS is intended to be an {it open-source, extendable} package positioned between the simple typical research-grade implementations and the professional implementation of DART, but with the capability to utilize large physical models. Students can use it as an interactive learning tool, and researchers can use it as experimental testing pad where they can focus on coding only their new ideas without worrying much about the other pieces of the DA process.The code developed by a researcher in the DATeS framework should fit with all other pieces in the package with minimal-to-no effort, as long as the programmer follows the flexible rules of DATeS.