The mean, trend and variability of net snow accumulation in firn cores are often used to validate model output, develop remote-sensing algorithms and quantify ice-sheet surface mass balance. Thus, accurately defining uncertainties associated with these in situ measurements is critical. In this study, we apply statistical simulation methods to quantify the uncertainty in firn-core accumulation data due to the uncertainty in depth–age scales. The methods are applied to a suite of firn cores from central West Antarctica. The results show that uncertainty in depth–age scales can give rise to spurious trends in accumulation that are the same order of magnitude as accumulation trends reported in West Antarctica. The depth–age scale uncertainties also significantly increase the apparent interannual accumulation variability, so these uncertainties must first be accounted for before using firn-core data to assess such processes as small-spatial-scale variability. Better quantification of error in accumulation will improve our ability to meaningfully compare firn-core data across different regions of the ice sheet, and provide appropriate targets for calibration and/or validation of model output and remote-sensing data.