The F-family of covariance functions: A Matérn analogue for modeling random fields on spheres

A. Alegría, F. Cuevas-Pacheco, P. Diggle, E. Porcu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The Matérn family of isotropic covariance functions has been central to the theoretical development and application of statistical models for geospatial data. For global data defined over the whole sphere representing planet Earth, the natural distance between any two locations is the great circle distance. In this setting, the Matérn family of covariance functions has a restriction on the smoothness parameter, making it an unappealing choice to model smooth data. Finding a suitable analogue for modelling data on the sphere is still an open problem. This paper proposes a new family of isotropic covariance functions for random fields defined over the sphere. The proposed family has a parameter that indexes the mean square differentiability of the corresponding Gaussian field, and allows for any admissible range of fractal dimension. Our simulation study mimics the fixed domain asymptotic setting, which is the most natural regime for sampling on a closed and bounded set. As expected, our results support the analogous results (under the same asymptotic scheme) for planar processes that not all parameters can be estimated consistently. We apply the proposed model to a dataset of precipitable water content over a large portion of the Earth, and show that the model gives more precise predictions of the underlying process at unsampled locations than does the Matérn model using chordal distances.

Original languageBritish English
Article number100512
JournalSpatial Statistics
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Fractal dimension
  • Great circle distance
  • Matérn covariance function
  • Mean square differentiability


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