34 Citations (SciVal)


General multivariate distributions are notoriously expensive to sample from, particularly the high-dimensional posterior distributions in PDE-constrained inverse problems. This paper develops a sampler for arbitrary continuous multivariate distributions that is based on low-rank surrogates in the tensor train format, a methodology that has been exploited for many years for scalable, high-dimensional density function approximation in quantum physics and chemistry. We build upon recent developments of the cross approximation algorithms in linear algebra to construct a tensor train approximation to the target probability density function using a small number of function evaluations. For sufficiently smooth distributions, the storage required for accurate tensor train approximations is moderate, scaling linearly with dimension. In turn, the structure of the tensor train surrogate allows sampling by an efficient conditional distribution method since marginal distributions are computable with linear complexity in dimension. Expected values of non-smooth quantities of interest, with respect to the surrogate distribution, can be estimated using transformed independent uniformly-random seeds that provide Monte Carlo quadrature or transformed points from a quasi-Monte Carlo lattice to give more efficient quasi-Monte Carlo quadrature. Unbiased estimates may be calculated by correcting the transformed random seeds using a Metropolis–Hastings accept/reject step, while the quasi-Monte Carlo quadrature may be corrected either by a control-variate strategy or by importance weighting. We show that the error in the tensor train approximation propagates linearly into the Metropolis–Hastings rejection rate and the integrated autocorrelation time of the resulting Markov chain; thus, the integrated autocorrelation time may be made arbitrarily close to 1, implying that, asymptotic in sample size, the cost per effectively independent sample is one target density evaluation plus the cheap tensor train surrogate proposal that has linear cost with dimension. These methods are demonstrated in three computed examples: fitting failure time of shock absorbers; a PDE-constrained inverse diffusion problem; and sampling from the Rosenbrock distribution. The delayed rejection adaptive Metropolis (DRAM) algorithm is used as a benchmark. In all computed examples, the importance weight-corrected quasi-Monte Carlo quadrature performs best and is more efficient than DRAM by orders of magnitude across a wide range of approximation accuracies and sample sizes. Indeed, all the methods developed here significantly outperform DRAM in all computed examples.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-625
Number of pages23
JournalStatistics and Computing
Issue number3
Early online date2 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

30 pages


  • Importance weights
  • MCMC
  • Multivariate distributions
  • Surrogate models
  • Tensor decomposition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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