Spectral estimation on a sphere in geophysics and cosmology

F. A. Dahlen, Frederik J. Simons

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80 Scopus citations


We address the problem of estimating the spherical-harmonic power spectrum of a statistically isotropic scalar signal from noise-contaminated data on a region of the unit sphere. Three different methods of spectral estimation are considered: (i) the spherical analogue of the one-dimensional (1-D) periodogram, (ii) the maximum-likelihood method and (iii) a spherical analogue of the 1-D multitaper method. The periodogram exhibits strong spectral leakage, especially for small regions of area A ≪ 4π, and is generally unsuitable for spherical spectral analysis applications, just as it is in 1-D. The maximum-likelihood method is particularly useful in the case of nearly-whole-sphere coverage, A ≈ 4π, and has been widely used in cosmology to estimate the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation from spacecraft observations. The spherical multitaper method affords easy control over the fundamental trade-off between spectral resolution and variance, and is easily implemented regardless of the region size, requiring neither non-linear iteration nor large-scale matrix inversion. As a result, the method is ideally suited for most applications in geophysics, geodesy or planetary science, where the objective is to obtain a spatially localized estimate of the spectrum of a signal from noisy data within a pre-selected and typically small region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)774-807
Number of pages34
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


  • Fourier analysis
  • Inverse theory
  • Spatial analysis
  • Time series analysis


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