NCL Home > Documentation > Functions > General applied math, Statistics


Estimates the number of independent values of a series of correlated observations.


	function equiv_sample_size (
		x       : numeric,  
		siglvl  : numeric,  
		opt     : integer   

	return_val  :  integer



Input vector array of any dimensionality. Missing values should be indicated by x@_FillValue. If x@_FillValue is not set, then the NCL default value (appropriate to the type of x) will be assumed. The function will operate on the rightmost dimension.


User specified critical significance level (0.0 < siglvl < 1.0). Typically, siglvl <= 0.10 (most frequently, siglvl=0.05 or siglvl=0.01).


Currently not used. Set to zero.

Return value

The return value(s) will be of type integer.

The number of dimensions will be one less than the number of input dimensions (i.e. the rightmost dimension of x will no longer be present).


Given a series of length N, this function will:

  1. calculate the lag-one autocorrelation (hereafter, r1),
  2. test the null hypothesis [no correlation; H0: r1=0] at the user specified critical level (siglvl), and
  3. if significant, estimate the number of independent samples ("equivalent sample size"). If not significant it will return the original sample size, N.
The approach here is loosely based upon:
Taking Serial Correlation into Account in Tests of the Mean
F. W. Zwiers and H. von Storch, J. Climate 1995, pp336-
There are many caveats:

  • The input series must be a Gaussian "red-noise" process (positive r1). If the function calculates a negative r1 ("blue-noise" process), it will return the original sample size, N.
  • N should be "large". The larger r1, the larger N should be. Technically, one should only use this function when the number of equivalent sample sizes is known to be >= 30.
  • Do not use the results of this function without some intelligence. Read the article.

Another simple reference for autocorrelation (serial correlation) and effective sample size is here.


Example 1

Here x is a series of length N (=1000). The data are normally distributed.

   siglvl = 0.01
   neqv   = equiv_sample_size (x, siglvl,0)
neqv will be a scalar with an estimate of the equivalent sample size. Some examples for N=200 at various correlation levels and two siglvl values (0.10 and 0.05) follow. A siglvl=0.01 may have resulted in larger neqv.
        r       neqv      neqv       
               (0.10)    (0.05)
     0.702441     34        34
     0.628879     45        45
     0.576756     53        53
     0.487207     68        68
     0.407399     83        83
     0.283313    111       111
     0.119770    156       200
     0.069794    200       200

Example 2

If y has size (ntim,nlat,nlon) and named dimensions "time", "lat", "lon" [i.e., y(time,lat,lon)], where "ntim" is large, then use NCL's dimension reordering:

   siglvl = 0.05
   neqv   = equiv_sample_size (y(lat|:,lon|:,time|:), siglvl,0)
neqv will be size (nlat,mlon) containing at each grid point an estimate of the number of independent observations. Again, use the results carefully. Even if the data have no significant auto correlation, some grid points may indicate significant positive r1 just due to sampling. One should use field significance testing to see if the sample sizes returned are indeed significant.

Example 3

Let's say the above had monthly data and the users wanted to check to see if successive Januaries, Februaries, etc. were significantly correlated and, if so, get the equivalent samples sizes:

   siglvl = 0.01
   do nmo=0,nmos-1     ; nmos=12
      neqv = equiv_sample_size (y(lat|:,lon|:,time|nt:ntim-1,nmos), siglvl,0)
      ; neqv ==>(nlat,mlon)
   end do
Each pass through the loop will yield an estimate of the equivalent sample size. Previous comments apply here also.

Example 4

Let x(time,lat,lon) and y(time,lat,lon) where "time", "lat", "lon" are dimension names.

  1. Use NCL's named dimensions to reorder in time
  2. Specify a critical significance level to test the lag-one auto-correlation coefficient and determine the (temporal) number of equivalent sample sizes each grid point using equiv_sample_size;
  3. [optional] Estimate a single global mean equivalent sample size using wgt_areaave that could be used for the ttest or ftest.
  xtmp = x(lat|:,lon|:,time|:)       ; reorder but do it only once [temporary]
  ytmp = y(lat|:,lon|:,time|:)
  sigr = 0.05                        ; critical sig lvl for r
  xEqv = equiv_sample_size (xtmp, sigr,0)
  yEqv = equiv_sample_size (ytmp, sigr,0)
  xN   = wgt_areaave (xEqv, wgtx, 1., 0)    ; wgtx could be gaussian weights 
  yN   = wgt_areaave (yEqv, wgty, 1., 0)