We introduce a new class of nonstationary covariance functions for spatial modelling. Nonstationary covariance functions allow the model to adapt to spatial surfaces whose variability changes with location. The class includes a nonstationary version of the stationary covariance, in which the differentiability of the spatial surface is controlled by a parameter, freeing one from fixing the differentiability in advance. The class allows one to knit together local covariance parameters into a valid global nonstationary covariance, regardless of how the local covariance structure is estimated. We employ this new nonstationary covariance in a fully Bayesian model in which the unknown spatial process has a Gaussian process (GP) distribution with a nonstationary covariance function from the class. We model the nonstationary structure in a computationally efficient way that creates nearly stationary local behavior and for which stationarity is a special case. We also suggest non-Bayesian approaches to nonstationary kriging.
To assess the method, we compare the Bayesian nonstationary GP model with a Bayesian stationary GP model, various standard spatial smoothing approaches, and nonstationary models that can adapt to function heterogeneity. In simulations, the nonstationary GP model adapts to function heterogeneity, unlike the stationary models, and also outperforms the other nonstationary models. On a real dataset, GP models outperform the competitors, but while the nonstationary GP gives qualitatively more sensible results, it fails to outperform the stationary GP on held-out data, illustrating the difficulty in fitting complex spatial functions with relatively few observations.
The nonstationary covariance model could also be used for non-Gaussian data and embedded in additive models as well as in more complicated, hierarchical spatial or spatio-temporal models. More complicated models may require simpler parameterizations for computational efficiency.