Estimation of distributional parameters for censored trace level water quality data: 1. Estimation techniques

Water Resources Research
By:  and 



A recurring difficulty encountered in investigations of many metals and organic contaminants in ambient waters is that a substantial portion of water sample concentrations are below limits of detection established by analytical laboratories. Several methods were evaluated for estimating distributional parameters for such censored data sets using only uncensored observations. Their reliabilities were evaluated by a Monte Carlo experiment in which small samples were generated from a wide range of parent distributions and censored at varying levels. Eight methods were used to estimate the mean, standard deviation, median, and interquartile range. Criteria were developed, based on the distribution of uncensored observations, for determining the best performing parameter estimation method for any particular data set. The most robust method for minimizing error in censored-sample estimates of the four distributional parameters over all simulation conditions was the log-probability regression method. With this method, censored observations are assumed to follow the zero-to-censoring level portion of a lognormal distribution obtained by a least squares regression between logarithms of uncensored concentration observations and their z scores. When method performance was separately evaluated for each distributional parameter over all simulation conditions, the log-probability regression method still had the smallest errors for the mean and standard deviation, but the lognormal maximum likelihood method had the smallest errors for the median and interquartile range. When data sets were classified prior to parameter estimation into groups reflecting their probable parent distributions, the ranking of estimation methods was similar, but the accuracy of error estimates was markedly improved over those without classification.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Estimation of distributional parameters for censored trace level water quality data: 1. Estimation techniques
Series title Water Resources Research
DOI 10.1029/WR022i002p00135
Volume 22
Issue 2
Year Published 1986
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Description 12 p.
First page 135
Last page 146