Robust estimation of background noise and signal detection in climatic time series

Michael E. Mann, Jonathan M. Lees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1045 Scopus citations


We present a new technique for isolating climate signals in time series with a characteristic 'red' noise background which arises from temporal persistence. This background is estimated by a 'robust' procedure that, unlike conventional techniques, is largely unbiased by the presence of signals immersed in the noise. Making use of multiple-taper spectral analysis methods, the technique further provides for a distinction between purely harmonic (periodic) signals, and broader-band ('quasiperiodic') signals. The effectiveness of our signal detection procedure is demonstrated with synthetic examples that simulate a variety of possible periodic and quasiperiodic signals immersed in red noise. We apply our methodology to historical climate and paleoclimate time series examples. Analysis of a ≃ 3 million year sediment core reveals significant periodic components at known astronomical forcing periodicities and a significant quasiperiodic 100 year peak. Analysis of a roughly 1500 year tree-ring reconstruction of Scandinavian summer temperatures suggests significant quasiperiodic signals on a near-century timescale, an interdecadal 16-18 year timescale, within the interannual El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) band, and on a quasibiennial timescale. Analysis of the 144 year record of Great Salt Lake monthly volume change reveals a significant broad band of significant interdecadal variability, ENSO-timescale peaks, an annual cycle and its harmonics. Focusing in detail on the historical estimated global- average surface temperature record, we find a highly significant secular trend relative to the estimated red noise background, and weakly significant quasiperiodic signals within the ENSO band. Decadal and quasibiennial signals are marginally significant in this series.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-445
Number of pages37
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Robust estimation of background noise and signal detection in climatic time series'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this