How large are temporal representativeness errors in paleoclimatology?
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How large are temporal representativeness errors in paleoclimatology?

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  • Journal Title:
    Climate of the Past
  • Personal Author:
  • Description:
    Ongoing work in paleoclimate reconstruction prioritizes understanding the origins and magnitudes of errors that arise when comparing models and data. One class of such errors arises from assumptions of proxy temporal representativeness (TR), i.e., how accurately proxy measurements represent climate variables at particular times and time intervals. Here we consider effects arising when (1) the time interval over which the data average and the climate interval of interest have different durations, (2) those intervals are offset from one another in time (including when those offsets are unknown due to chronological uncertainty), and (3) the paleoclimate archive has been smoothed in time prior to sampling. Because all proxy measurements are time averages of one sort or another and it is challenging to tailor proxy measurements to precise time intervals, such errors are expected to be common in model–data and data–data comparisons, but how large and prevalent they are is unclear. This work provides a 1st-order quantification of temporal representativity errors and studies the interacting effects of sampling procedures, archive smoothing, chronological offsets and errors (e.g., arising from radiocarbon dating), and the spectral character of the climate process being sampled.

    Experiments with paleoclimate observations and synthetic time series reveal that TR errors can be large relative to paleoclimate signals of interest, particularly when the time duration sampled by observations is very large or small relative to the target time duration. Archive smoothing can reduce sampling errors by acting as an anti-aliasing filter but destroys high-frequency climate information. The contribution from stochastic chronological errors is qualitatively similar to that when an observation has a fixed time offset from the target. An extension of the approach to paleoclimate time series, which are sequences of time-average values, shows that measurement intervals shorter than the spacing between samples lead to errors, absent compensating effects from archive smoothing. Nonstationarity in time series, sampling procedures, and archive smoothing can lead to changes in TR errors in time. Including these sources of uncertainty will improve accuracy in model–data comparisons and data comparisons and syntheses. Moreover, because sampling procedures emerge as important parameters in uncertainty quantification, reporting salient information about how records are processed and assessments of archive smoothing and chronological uncertainties alongside published data is important to be able to use records to their maximum potential in paleoclimate reconstruction and data assimilation.

  • Source:
    Clim. Past, 16, 325–340, 2020
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  • Rights Information:
    CC BY
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