A significant attempt to design a timesaving and efficient four-dimensional variational data assimilation (4DVar) has been made in this paper, and a new approach to data assimilation, which is noted as 'three-dimensional variational data assimilation of mapped observation (3DVM)' is proposed, based on the new concept of mapped observation and the new idea of backward 4DVar. Like the available 4DVar, 3DVM produces an optimal initial condition (IC) that is consistent with the prediction model due to the inclusion
of model constraints and best fits the observations in the assimilation window through the model solution trajectory. Different from the 4DVar, the IC derived from 3DVM is located at the end of the assimilation window rather than at the beginning conventionally. This change greatly reduces the computing cost for the new approach, which is almost the same as that of the three-dimensional variational data assimilation (3DVar). Especially, such a change is able to improve assimilation accuracy because it does not need
the tangential linear and adjoint approximations to calculate the gradient of cost function. Therefore,in numerical test, the new approach produces better IC than 4DVar does for 72-h simulation of TY9914 (Dan), by assimilating the three-dimensional fields of temperature and wind retrieved from the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit-A (AMSU-A) observations. Meanwhile, it takes only 1/7 of the computing cost that the 4DVar requires for the same initialization with the same retrieved data.