We consider the task of spectral estimation of local quantum Hamiltonians. The spectral estimation is performed by estimating the oscillation frequencies or decay rates of signals representing the time evolution of states. We present a classical Monte Carlo (MC) scheme which efficiently estimates an imaginary-time, decaying signal for stoquastic (i.e. sign-problem-free) local Hamiltonians. The decay rates in this signal correspond to Hamiltonian eigenvalues (with associated eigenstates present in an input state) and can be extracted using a classical signal processing method like ESPRIT. We compare the efficiency of this MC scheme to its quantum counterpart in which one extracts eigenvalues of a general local Hamiltonian from a real-time, oscillatory signal obtained through quantum phase estimation circuits, again using the ESPRIT method. We prove that the ESPRIT method can resolve S = poly(n) eigenvalues, assuming a 1/poly(n) gap between them, with poly(n) quantum and classical effort through the quantum phase estimation (QPE) circuits, assuming efficient preparation of the input state. We prove that our MC scheme plus the ESPRIT method can resolve S = O(1) eigenvalues, assuming a 1/poly(n) gap between them, with poly(n) purely classical effort for stoquastic Hamiltonians, requiring some access structure to the input state. However, we also show that under these assumptions, i.e. S = O(1) eigenvalues, assuming a 1/poly(n) gap between them and some access structure to the input state, one can achieve this with poly(n) purely classical effort for general local Hamiltonians. These results thus quantify some opportunities and limitations of MC methods for spectral estimation of Hamiltonians. We numerically compare the MC eigenvalue estimation scheme (for stoquastic Hamiltonians) and the quantum-phase-estimation-based eigenvalue estimation scheme by implementing them for an archetypal stoquastic Hamiltonian system: the transverse field Ising chain.

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