We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Institute of Advanced Study

Professor John Haslett

IAS Fellow at Collingwood College, Durham University (January - March 2008)

Professor John Haslett is a graduate of Queen's University Belfast (1966-69) and the University of Birmingham (1970-1973). He is married to Deirdre, with three children and - latterly - a grand-daughter. He began his academic career at the University of Ile-Ife in Nigeria, working with Voluntary Service Overseas. He has been at Trinity College Dublin, 1973, with sabbaticals in Australia with CSIRO's Division of Mathematic and Statistics (1979-80 and 1989) and at the University of Washington in Seattle 1987. He is a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin and of the Royal Statistical Society. He is an elected member of the International Statistical Institute and of the EPSRC's review panel.

His current research - stimulated by Prof Brian Huntley in Durham - is focussed on the development of new statistical models for tasks such as reconstructing the palaeo-climate of Europe for the past ~15,000 years. He sees this as an example of a phenomenon (palaeoclimate) concerning which there are a large number of scraps of information in space-time, such as pollen in sediment cores. Related work concerns the transition to the Neolithic across Europe.

His research has involved a journey from mathematics, through wind-power, satellite imagery and mineral exploration to its present location. The vehicle for much of the journey has been spatial stochastic processes. His greatest intellectual excitement has been in the witnessing of the development of techniques, now underpinning statistical modelling in every area of physical and social science, from their origins in the statistical mechanics of spontaneous magnetization.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Reconstructing the Palaeoclimate

The large computer models of the the global climate are in fact based on measured data covering little more than a century. Interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and - of increasing importance - the cryosphere (the frozen part of the Earth's surface) are poorly understood.

The research community increasingly recognises the importance of the palaeoclimate as a source of information. For example, the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change remarks that "during the last glacial period, abrupt regional warmings (probably up to 16 degrees C within decades, over Greenland) occurred repeatedly over the North Atlantic region". Such scenarios are beyond the level of detail of the climate models in current use. What we know about the palaeoclimate is due to researchers, such as Prof Brian Huntley in Durham, who have shown that much quantitative information is available in proxies such as pollen in lake sediment, oxygen isotopes in ice cores etc. Indeed it is now possible quantitatively to reconstruct the palaeoclimate from such proxies. But such reconstructions are uncertain; indeed uncertainty about past and future climates is THE major problem in planning. Indeed, a more correct description of the task is the reduction, and statement, of these uncertainties in the light of the available data. This talk will present several of the sources of uncertainty, and will outline how modern statistical methods can be used to study them jointly. It will be illustrated by data corresponding to the past 12 millennia at several sites in the British Isles.

Professor John Haslett Publications

Parnell, A.C., Haslett, J., Sweeney, J., Doan, T.K., Allen, J.R.M. & Huntley, B (2016) 'Joint palaeoclimate reconstruction from pollen data via forward models and climate histories', Quaternary Science Reviews , 151, pp. 111-126.

Parnell, A.C., Sweeney, J., Doan, T.K., Salter-Townshend, M., Allen, J.R.M., Huntley, B. & Haslett, J (2015) 'Bayesian inference for palaeoclimate with time uncertainty and stochastic volatility', Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series C (Applied Statistics), 64(1), pp. 115-138.

Allen, JRM ,. Buck, CE., Haslett, J., Huntley, B., Parnell, AC (2008) ' A new approach to assessing synchronicity of past events using Bayesian reconstructions of sedimentation history', Quaternary Science Reviews, 27(18/20), pp1872-1885, October 2008

IAS Insights Paper


Two sources of complementary information about the palaeoclimate are (a) dynamical models of the Earth climate system and (b) proxy data such as pollen, from which reconstructions may be attempted. Both of these are subject to considerable uncertainty, but of very different types. Recent advances in quite different parts of statistics allow us to anticipate a new level of inter-comparison focussed on palaeoclimate dynamics. This brief paper outlines a research agenda.

Insights Paper