Inverse methods for estimating primary input signals from time-averaged isotope profiles

Benjamin H. Passey*, Thure E. Cerling, Gerard T. Schuster, Todd F. Robinson, Beverly L. Roeder, Stephen K. Krueger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Mammalian teeth are invaluable archives of ancient seasonality because they record along their growth axes an isotopic record of temporal change in environment, plant diet, and animal behavior. A major problem with the intra-tooth method is that intra-tooth isotope profiles can be extremely time-averaged compared to the actual pattern of isotopic variation experienced by the animal during tooth formation. This time-averaging is a result of the temporal and spatial characteristics of amelogenesis (tooth enamel formation), and also results from laboratory sampling. This paper develops and evaluates an inverse method for reconstructing original input signals from time-averaged intra-tooth isotope profiles. The method requires that the temporal and spatial patterns of amelogenesis are known for the specific tooth and uses a minimum length solution of the linear system Am = d, where d is the measured isotopic profile, A is a matrix describing temporal and spatial averaging during amelogenesis and sampling, and m is the input vector that is sought. Accuracy is dependent on several factors, including the total measurement error and the isotopic structure of the measured profile. The method is shown to accurately reconstruct known input signals for synthetic tooth enamel profiles and the known input signal for a rabbit that underwent controlled dietary changes. Application to carbon isotope profiles of modern hippopotamus canines reveals detailed dietary histories that are not apparent from the measured data alone. Inverse methods show promise as an effective means of dealing with the time-averaging problem in studies of intra-tooth isotopic variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4101-4116
Number of pages16
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 15 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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