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Amanda S. Black
Didier P. Monselesan
James S. Risbey
Bernadette M. Sloyan
Christopher C. Chapman
Abdelwaheb Hannachi
Doug Richardson
Dougal T. Squire
Carly R. Tozer
, and
Nikolay Trendafilov


The ability to find and recognize patterns in high-dimensional geophysical data is fundamental to climate science and critical for meaningful interpretation of weather and climate processes. Archetypal analysis (AA) is one technique that has recently gained traction in the geophysical science community for its ability to find patterns based on extreme conditions. While traditional empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis can reveal patterns based on data covariance, AA seeks patterns from the points located at the edges of the data distribution. The utility of any objective pattern method depends on the properties of the data to which it is applied and the choices made in implementing the method. Given the relative novelty of the application of AA in geophysics it is important to develop experience in applying the method. We provide an assessment of the method, implementation, sensitivity, and interpretation of AA with respect to geophysical data. As an example for demonstration, we apply AA to a 39-yr sea surface temperature (SST) reanalysis dataset. We show that the decisions made to implement AA can significantly affect the interpretation of results, but also, in the case of SST, that the analysis is exceptionally robust under both spatial and temporal coarse graining.

Significance Statement

Archetypal analysis (AA), when applied to geophysical fields, is a technique designed to find typical configurations or modes in underlying data. This technique is relatively new to the geophysical science community and has been shown to be beneficial to the interpretation of extreme modes of the climate system. The identification of extreme modes of variability and their expression in day-to-day weather or state of the climate at longer time scales may help in elucidating the interplay between major teleconnection drivers and their evolution in a changing climate. The purpose of this work is to bring together a comprehensive report of the AA methodology using an SST reanalysis for demonstration. It is shown that the AA results are significantly affected by each implementation decision, but also can be resilient to spatiotemporal averaging. Any application of AA should provide a clear documentation of the choices made in applying the method.

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