Efficient Implementation of an Optimal Interpolator for Large Spatial Data Sets

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Interpolating scattered data points is a problem of wide ranging interest. A number of approaches for interpolation have been proposed both from theoretical domains such as computational geometry and in applications' fields such as geostatistics. Our motivation arises from geological and mining applications. In many instances data can be costly to compute and are available only at nonuniformly scattered positions. Because of the high cost of collecting measurements, high accuracy is required in the interpolants. One of the most popular interpolation methods in this field is called ordinary kriging. It is popular because it is a best linear unbiased estimator. The price for its statistical optimality is that the estimator is computationally very expensive. This is because the value of each interpolant is given by the solution of a large dense linear system. In practice, kriging problems have been solved approximately by restricting the domain to a small local neighborhood of points that lie near the query point. Determining the proper size for this neighborhood is a solved by ad hoc methods, and it has been shown that this approach leads to undesirable discontinuities in the interpolant. Recently a more principled approach to approximating kriging has been proposed based on a technique called covariance tapering. This process achieves its efficiency by replacing the large dense kriging system with a much sparser linear system. This technique has been applied to a restriction of our problem, called simple kriging, which is not unbiased for general data sets. In this paper we generalize these results by showing how to apply covariance tapering to the more general problem of ordinary kriging. Through experimentation we demonstrate the space and time efficiency and accuracy of approximating ordinary kriging through the use of covariance tapering combined with iterative methods for solving large sparse systems. We demonstrate our approach on large data sizes arising both from synthetic sources and from real applications.