Mathematical Geology

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 269–300 | Cite as

Bayesian Mixture Modelling in Geochronology via Markov Chain Monte Carlo

  • Ajay Jasra
  • David A. Stephens
  • Kerry Gallagher
  • Christopher C. Holmes


In this paper we develop a generalized statistical methodology for characterizing geochronological data, represented by a distribution of single mineral ages. The main characteristics of such data are the heterogeneity and error associated with its collection. The former property means that mixture models are often appropriate for their analysis, in order to identify discrete age components in the overall distribution. We demonstrate that current methods (e.g., Sambridge and Compston, 1994) for analyzing such problems are not always suitable due to the restriction of the class of component densities that may be fitted to the data. This is of importance, when modelling geochronological data, as it is often the case that skewed and heavy tailed distributions will fit the data well. We concentrate on developing (Bayesian) mixture models with flexibility in the class of component densities, using Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods to fit the models. Our method allows us to use any component density to fit the data, as well as returning a probability distribution for the number of components. Furthermore, rather than dealing with the observed ages, as in previous approaches, we make the inferences of components from the “true” ages, i.e., the ages had we been able to observe them without measurement error. We demonstrate our approach on two data sets: uranium-lead (U-Pb) zircon ages from the Khorat basin of northern Thailand and the Carrickalinga Head formation of southern Australia.


Bayesian statistics mixture modelling reversible jump Markov chain Monte Carlo geochronology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ajay Jasra
    • 1
  • David A. Stephens
    • 1
  • Kerry Gallagher
    • 2
  • Christopher C. Holmes
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of MathematicsImperial CollegeLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Earth Science and EngineeringImperial College LondonLondonUnited Kingdom
  3. 3.Oxford Centre for Gene Function, Department of StatisticsUniversity of OxfordOxfordUnited Kingdom
  4. 4.Mammalian Genetics UnitMRC HarwellHarwellUnited Kingdom

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