Statistical analysis of clusters of extreme events

The thesis is a contribution to extreme-value statistics, more precisely to the estimation of clustering characteristics of extreme values. One summary measure of the tendency to form groups is the inverse average cluster size. In extreme-value context, this parameter is called the extremal index, and apart from its relation with the size of groups, it appears as an important parameter measuring the effects of serial dependence on extreme levels in time series. Although several methods exist for its estimation in univariate sequences, these methods are only applicable for strictly stationary series satisfying a long-range asymptotic independence condition on extreme levels, cannot take covariates into consideration, and yield only crude estimates for the corresponding multivariate quantity. These are strong restrictions and great drawbacks. In climatic time series, both stationarity and asymptotic independence can be broken, due to climate change and possible long memory of the data, and not including information from simultaneously measured linked variables may lead to inefficient estimation. The thesis addresses these issues. First, we extend the theorem of Ferro and Segers (2003) concerning the distribution of inter-exceedance times: we introduce truncated inter-exceedance times, called K-gaps, and show that they follow the same exponential-point mass mixture distribution as the inter-exceedance times. The maximization of the likelihood built on this distribution yields a simple closed-form estimator for the extremal index. The method can admit covariates and can be applied with smoothing techniques, which allows its use in a nonstationary setting. Simulated and real data examples demonstrate the smooth estimation of the extremal index. The likelihood, based on an assumption of independence of the K-gaps, is misspecified whenever K is too small. This motivates another contribution of the thesis, the introduction into extreme-value statistics of misspecification tests based on the information matrix. For our likelihood, they are able to detect misspecification from any source, not only those due to a bad choice of the truncation parameter. They provide help also in threshold selection, and show whether the fundamental assumptions of stationarity or asymptotic independence are broken. Moreover, these diagnostic tests are of general use, and could be adapted to many kinds of extreme-value models, which are always approximate. Simulated examples demonstrate the performance of the misspecification tests in the context of extremal index estimation. Two data examples with complex behaviour, one univariate and the other bivariate, offer insight into their power in discovering situations where the fundamental assumptions of the likelihood model are not valid. In the multivariate case, the parameter corresponding to the univariate extremal index is the multivariate extremal index function. As in the univariate case, its appearance is linked to serial dependence in the observed processes. Univariate estimation methods can be applied, but are likely to give crude, unreasonably varying, estimates, and the constraints on the extremal index function implied by the characteristics of the stable tail dependence function are not automatically satisfied. The third contribution of the thesis is the development of methodology based on the M4 approximation of Smith and Weissman (1996), which can be used to estimate the multivariate extremal index, as well as other cluster characteristics. For this purpose, we give a preliminary cluster selection procedure, and approximate the noise on finite levels with a flexible semiparametric model, the Dirichlet mixtures used widely in Bayesian analysis. The model is fitted by the EM algorithm. Advantages and drawbacks of the method are discussed using the same univariate and bivariate examples as the likelihood methods.


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