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A method of spherical harmonic analysis in the geosciences via hierarchical Bayesian inference

By J. B. Muir and H. Tkalčić


The problem of decomposing irregular data on the sphere into a set of spherical harmonics is common in many fields of geosciences where it is necessary to build a quantitative understanding of a globally varying field. For example, in global seismology, a compressional or shear wave speed that emerges from tomographic images is used to interpret current state and composition of the mantle, and in geomagnetism, secular variation of magnetic field intensity measured at the surface is studied to better understand the changes in the Earth's core. Optimization methods are widely used for spherical harmonic analysis of irregular data, but they typically do not treat the dependence of the uncertainty estimates on the imposed regularization. This can cause significant difficulties in interpretation, especially when the best-fit model requires more variables as a result of underestimating data noise. Here, with the above limitations in mind, the problem of spherical harmonic expansion of irregular data is treated within the hierarchical Bayesian framework. The hierarchical approach significantly simplifies the problem by removing the need for regularization terms and user-supplied noise estimates. The use of the corrected Akaike Information Criterion for picking the optimal maximum degree of spherical harmonic expansion and the resulting spherical harmonic analyses are first illustrated on a noisy synthetic data set. Subsequently, the method is applied to two global data sets sensitive to the Earth's inner core and lowermost mantle, consisting of PKPab-df and PcP-P differential traveltime residuals relative to a spherically symmetric Earth model. The posterior probability distributions for each spherical harmonic coefficient are calculated via Markov Chain Monte Carlo sampling; the uncertainty obtained for the coefficients thus reflects the noise present in the real data and the imperfections in the spherical harmonic expansion

Publisher: Royal Astronomical Society
Year: 2015
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