Statistical Uncertainty in Paleoclimate Proxy Reconstructions

H. L.O. McClelland, I. Halevy, D. A. Wolf-Gladrow, D. Evans, A. S. Bradley

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6 Scopus citations


A quantitative analysis of any environment older than the instrumental record relies on proxies. Uncertainties associated with proxy reconstructions are often underestimated, which can lead to artificial conflict between different proxies, and between data and models. In this paper, using ordinary least squares linear regression as a common example, we describe a simple, robust and generalizable method for quantifying uncertainty in proxy reconstructions. We highlight the primary controls on the magnitude of uncertainty, and compare this simple estimate to equivalent estimates from Bayesian, nonparametric and fiducial statistical frameworks. We discuss when it may be possible to reduce uncertainties, and conclude that the unexplained variance in the calibration must always feature in the uncertainty in the reconstruction. This directs future research toward explaining as much of the variance in the calibration data as possible. We also advocate for a “data-forward” approach, that clearly decouples the presentation of proxy data from plausible environmental inferences.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021GL092773
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 16 2021


  • calibration
  • confidence intervals
  • inverse prediction
  • paleoceanography
  • paleoclimate
  • proxies


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