How to Perform a Mann-Kendall Trend Test in R

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The Mann-Kendall Trend Test, often referred to as the Kendall’s tau test, is a non-parametric test used to detect a trend in a time series dataset. Given its non-parametric nature, it doesn’t make strong assumptions about the distribution of data, making it widely suitable for a variety of datasets, especially in environmental and climate studies.

This article will guide you through the fundamental principles of the Mann-Kendall Trend Test, provide steps for data preparation, showcase how to perform the test in R, and offer guidance on interpreting results.

Understanding the Mann-Kendall Trend Test

The Mann-Kendall Trend Test is grounded on the comparison of data points throughout the time series. The primary objective is to ascertain whether there’s a statistically significant trend in the data—either increasing or decreasing.

The null hypothesis (H0​) for the Mann-Kendall Trend Test states that the data is independent and identically distributed, meaning there’s no trend. The alternative hypothesis (HA​) contends that observations possess a monotonic trend, either increasing or decreasing.

Preparing Your Data

For the Mann-Kendall Trend Test, your data should be in a time series format, with two columns:

  1. Time: This could be in years, months, days, or any other unit, depending on your dataset.
  2. Observations: The actual measurements or values over time.

For example, consider a dataset tracking river discharge over a decade:

# Sample data
years <- seq(2010, 2020)
discharge <- cumsum(rnorm(11, mean = 0, sd = 5) + 10)

data <- data.frame(years, discharge)

Checking Assumptions

  1. Independence of Observations: Ideally, observations should be independent. While this might be unrealistic in many time series datasets due to potential autocorrelation, the Mann-Kendall test remains robust to mild violations of this assumption.
  2. Consistent Time Interval: The time interval between observations should remain consistent.

Performing the Mann-Kendall Trend Test in R

While base R doesn’t offer a built-in function for the Mann-Kendall Trend Test, several packages like Kendall and trend can assist:

Using the Kendall package:


result <- MannKendall(discharge)

Using the trend package:


result <- mk.test(discharge)

Interpreting the Results

Both packages will provide a tau value and a p-value. Here’s an interpretation guide:

  • Tau: This value will range between -1 and 1. A positive tau suggests an increasing trend, while a negative tau indicates a decreasing trend. The magnitude (absolute value) of tau represents the strength of the trend.
  • p-value: This helps determine the significance of your results. A small p-value (typically ≤ 0.05) suggests strong evidence against the null hypothesis. Hence, if the p-value is less than 0.05, there’s a statistically significant trend in your data.

Potential Limitations and Considerations

  1. Seasonality: If your data exhibits strong seasonality, it could potentially confound the trend detection. In such cases, consider deseasonalizing your data first.
  2. Serial Dependence: As previously mentioned, while the test is robust to mild violations of independence, significant serial correlation can inflate the type I error rate.


The Mann-Kendall Trend Test is a powerful tool for detecting trends in time series data, especially when you’re unsure about the distributional properties of your data. By leveraging the capabilities of R and its comprehensive packages, you can seamlessly perform this test and interpret its results, providing valuable insights into the trajectory of your dataset over time. Whether you’re studying climate change, water quality, or any time-dependent phenomenon, the Mann-Kendall Trend Test stands as a reliable choice for trend detection.

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