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Journal Articles Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences (1934–1990) Year : 2013

Transdimensional inference in the Geosciences


Seismologists construct images of the Earth's interior structure using observations, derived from seismograms, collected at the surface. A common approach to such inverse problems is to build a single 'best' Earth model, in some sense. This is despite the fact that the observations by themselves often do not require, or even allow, a single bestfit Earth model to exist. Interpretation of optimal models can be fraught with difficulties, particularly when formal uncertainty estimates become heavily dependent on the regularization imposed. Similar issues occur across the physical sciences with model construction in ill-posed problems. An alternative approach is to embrace the non-uniqueness directly and employ an inference process based on parameter space sampling. Instead of seeking a best model within an optimization framework, one seeks an ensemble of solutions and derives properties of that ensemble for inspection.While this idea has itself been employed for more than 30 years, it is now receiving increasing attention in the geosciences. Recently, it has been shown that transdimensional and hierarchical sampling methods have some considerable benefits for problems involving multiple parameter types, uncertain data errors and/or uncertain model parametrizations, as are common in seismology. Rather than being forced to make decisions on parametrization, the level of data noise and the weights between data types in advance, as is often the case in an optimization framework, the choice can be informed by the data themselves. Despite the relatively high computational burden involved, the number of areas where sampling methods are now feasible is growing rapidly. The intention of this article is introduce concepts of transdimensional inference to a general readership and illustrate with particular seismological examples. A growing body of references provide necessary detail.


Earth Sciences

Dates and versions

insu-00776911 , version 1 (16-01-2013)



Malcolm Sambridge, Thomas Bodin, Kerry Gallagher, Hrvoje Tkalcic. Transdimensional inference in the Geosciences. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences (1934–1990), 2013, A 371 (1984), pp.RSTA20110547. ⟨10.1098/rsta.2011.0547⟩. ⟨insu-00776911⟩
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