Introduction to Spatial Prediction

Many activities in science and technology involve measurements of one or more quantities at given spatial locations, with the goal of predicting the measured quantities at unsampled locations. Application areas include reservoir prediction in mining and petroleum exploration, in addition to modeling in a broad spectrum of fields (for example, environmental health, environmental pollution, natural resources and energy, hydrology, and risk analysis). Often, the unsampled locations are on a regular grid, and the predictions are used to produce surface plots or contour maps.

The preceding tasks fall within the scope of spatial prediction, which, in general, is any prediction method that incorporates spatial dependence. The study of these tasks involves naturally occurring uncertainties that cannot be ignored. Stochastic analysis frameworks and methods are often used to account for these uncertainties. Hence, the terms stochastic spatial prediction and stochastic modeling are also used to characterize this type of analysis.

A popular method of spatial prediction is ordinary kriging, which produces both predicted values and associated standard errors. Ordinary kriging requires the complete specification (the form and parameter values) of the spatial dependence that characterizes the spatial process. For this purpose, models for the spatial dependence are expressed in terms of the distance between any two locations in the spatial domain of interest. These models take the form of a covariance or semivariance function.

Spatial prediction, then, involves two steps. First, you model the covariance or semivariance of the spatial process. These measures are typically not known in advance. This step involves computing an empirical estimate, in addition to determining both the mathematical form and the values of any parameters for a theoretical form of the dependence model. Second, you use this dependence model to solve the kriging system at a specified set of spatial points, resulting in predicted values and associated standard errors.

The KRIGE2D procedure performs the second of these steps by using ordinary kriging of two-dimensional data.

This introduction concludes with a note on terminology. You might commonly encounter the terms estimation and prediction used interchangeably by experts in different fields; this could be a source of confusion. A precise statistical vernacular uses the term estimation to refer to inferences about the value of fixed but unknown parameters, whereas prediction concerns inferences about the value of random variables—see, for example, Cressie (1993, p. 106). In light of these definitions, kriging methods are clearly predictive techniques, since they are concerned with making inferences about the value of a spatial random field at observed or unobserved locations. The SAS/STAT suite of procedures for spatial analysis and prediction (VARIOGRAM, KRIGE2D, and SIM2D) follows the statistical vernacular in the use of the terms estimation and prediction.