Simulating Matérn hard-core point processes

If you wanted to create a point process with repulsion, a reasonable first attempt would be to build off a Poisson point process by removing points according to some rule to ensure that no two points were within a certain distance of each other. Using this natural idea, Bertril Matérn proposed a family of repulsive point processes called Matérn hard-core point processes.

More specifically, Matérn proposed several points processes, including two types of hard-core point processes now called Type I and Type II. (Matérn proposed a third type, called Type III, but it’s considerably harder to simulate on a computer, as detailed in this article.) These types of hard-core point processes are completely different to the Matérn cluster point process.

As I discussed in a previous post, the Poisson point process may not be adequate for representing point phenomena whose points exhibit large degrees of repulsion or clustering. I already covered the Matérn and Thomas cluster point processes, which show distinct clustering in their configurations. In this post, I’ll cover Matérn hard-core point processes. The Type I point processes is the easier of the two, so I’ll start with that one.

Overview

Simulating Matérn hard-core point processes requires first simulating a homogeneous Poisson point process with an intensity \(\lambda>0\) on some simulation window, such as a rectangle, which is the simulation window I will use here. I have already written about simulating the homogeneous Poisson point processes on a rectangle and a disk, so those posts are good starting points.

Given the Poisson point process, the points then need to be thinned in such a manner to ensure that for each point, there is no other point within some fixed \(r>0\) of the point. This distance \(r>0\) is the radius of the hard core of each point.

I have already covered the point process operation of thinning. But it’s important to note here that in this construction a dependent thinning is being applied. (If I just applied an independent thinning, then the resulting point process will be another Poisson point process with no repulsion between points.)

Edge effects

The main trick behind sampling this point process is that it’s possible for points inside the simulation window to be thinned due to their closeness to points that are located outside the simulation window. In other words, points outside the simulation window can cause points inside the window to be thinned. (I discussed a very similar issue in the posts on the Matérn and Thomas cluster point processes.)

To remove these edge effects, the underlying Poisson point process must be simulated on an extended version of the simulation window. The points are then thinned according to a dependent thinning, which is covered in the next section. Then only the retained points inside the simulation window are kept and the remaining points are ignored. Consequently, the underling Poisson points are simulated on an extended window, but we only see the final points inside the simulation window.

To create the extended simulation window, we add a strip of width \(r\) all around the simulation window. Why? Well, the distance \(r\) is the maximum distance from the simulation window that another point (outside the simulation window) can exist, while still causing points inside the simulation window to be thinned. This means it is impossible for a hypothetical point beyond this distance (outside the extended window) to cause a point inside the simulation window to be thinned.

Dependent thinning rules

Type I

For each point inside the simulation window, check if there are any other points (including those in the extended window) within distance \(r\) of the point. If no, then keep the point. If yes, then remove the point and the points that are within distance \(r\) of the point. The remaining points inside the simulation window form a Matérn Type I point process.

This is a relatively simple thinning rule, which only requires calculating all the inter-point distances. But it is also a very strong thinning rule, meaning that it removes many points. Depending on the Poisson point process intensity \(\lambda\) and core radius \(r\), it is quite possible that all the points are removed, resulting in an empty configuration.

Now we examine the case when the thinning rule is not as strong.

Type II

To create Matérn Type II point process, we assign an independent uniform random variable to each point of the underlying Poisson point process defined on the extended window. In point process terminology, these random variables are called marks, resulting in a marked point process. In the the context of the Matérn Type II point process, these random random marks are usually called ages.

Then for each point in the simulation window, we consider all the points within distance \(r\) of the point. If this point is the youngest (or, equivalently, the oldest) point, then the point is kept. In other words, the point is only kept if its random mark is smaller (or larger) than the random marks of all the other points within distance \(r\) of the point. The remaining points inside the simulation window form a Matérn Type II point process.

Intensity expressions

Using point process and probability theory, one can derive mathematical expressions for the intensities (that is, the average density of points per unit area). These closed-form expressions can then be used to check that the correct number of points are being generated on average over many simulations.

Type I

The intensity of the Type I point process is given by

\[\mu_1=\lambda e^{-\lambda \pi r^2},\]

where \(\lambda \pi r^2\) is simply the area of the core.

Type II

The intensity of the Type II point process is given by

\[\mu_2=\frac{1}{\pi r^2}(1-e^{-\lambda \pi r^2}),\]

which can be written with the intensity of the the Type I point process as

\[\mu_2=\frac{1}{\pi r^2}(1-\frac{\mu_1}{\lambda}).\]

Code

I wrote the sampling code in MATLAB and Python, which are, as usual, very similar to each other. The code, which is is located here, simulates both Type I and II Matérn points processes. It also compares the empirical intensity to the the values given by the mathematical expressions in the previous section.

MATLAB

The MATLAB code is here.

Python

The Python code is here.

Results

I have plotted single realizations of the Matern Type I and II point processes, as well as the underlying Poisson point process in the same window.

MATLAB

Python

Further reading

Matérn hard-core point processes are covered in standard books on the related fields of spatial statistics, point processes and stochastic geometry, such as the following: Spatial Point Patterns: Methodology and Applications with R by Baddeley, Rubak and Turner, on page 140; Statistical Analysis and Modelling of Spatial Point Patterns Statistics by Illian, Penttinen, Stoyan, amd Stoyan, Section 6.5.2, starting on page 388; and; Stochastic Geometry and its Applications by Chiu, Stoyan, Kendall and Mecke, Section 5.4, starting on page 176. The first two books are particularly good for beginners.

The book Spatial Point Patterns: Methodology and Applications with R is written by spatial statistics experts Baddeley, Rubak and Turner. It covers the spatial statistics (and point process simulation) R-package spatstat., which has the functions rMaternI and rMaternII for simulating the two point processes respectively.

Simulating an inhomogeneous Poisson point process

In previous posts I described how to simulate homogeneous Poisson point processes on a rectangledisk and triangle. But here I will simulate an inhomogeneous or nonhomogeneous Poisson point process. (Both of these terms are used, where the latter is probably more popular, but I prefer the former.) For such a point process, the points are not uniformly located on the underlying mathematical space on which the Poisson process is defined. This means that certain regions  will, on average, tend to have more (or less) points than other regions of the underlying space.

Basics

Any Poisson point process is defined with a non-negative measure called the intensity or mean measure. I make the standard assumption that the intensity measure \(\Lambda\) has a derivative \(\lambda(x,y)\).  (I usually write a single \(x\) to denote a point on the plane, that is \(x\in \mathbb{R}^2\), but in this post I will write the \(x\) and \(y\) and coordinates separately.) The function \(\lambda(x,y)\) is often called the intensity function or just intensity, which I further assume is bounded, so \(\lambda(x,y)<\infty\) for all points in a simulation window \(W\). Finally, I assume that the simulation window \(W\) is a rectangle, but later I describe how to lift that assumption.

Number of points

To simulate a point process,  the number of points and the point locations  in the simulation window \(W\) are needed.  For any Poisson point process, the number of points is a Poisson random variable with a parameter (that is, a mean) \(\Lambda(W)\), which under our previous assumptions is given by the integral

$$\Lambda(W)=\int_W \lambda(x,y)dxdy. $$

Assuming we can evaluate such an integral analytically or numerically, then the number of points is clearly not difficult to simulate.

Locations of points

The difficulty lies in randomly positioning the points. But a defining property of the Poisson point process is its independence, which allows us to treat each point completely independently.  Positioning each point then comes down to suitably simulating two (or more) random variables for Poisson  point processes in two (or higher) dimensions.  Similarly, the standard methods used for simulating continuous random variables can be applied to simulating random point locations of a Poisson point process.

In theory, you can rescale the intensity function with the total measure of the simulation window, giving

$$f(x,y):=\frac{\lambda(x,y)}{\Lambda(W)}. $$

We can then interpret this rescaled intensity function \(f(x,y)\)  as the joint probability density of two random variables \(X\) and \(Y\), because it integrates to one,

$$\int_W f(x,y)dxdy=1.$$

Clearly the method for simulating an inhomogeneous Poisson point process depends on the nature of the intensity function. For the inhomogeneous case, the random variables \(X\) and \(Y\) are, in general, not independent.

Transformation

To simulate an inhomogeneous Poisson point process, one method is to first simulate a homogeneous one, and then suitably transform the points according to deterministic function. For simple random variables, this transformation method is quick and easy to implement, if we can invert the probability distribution. For example, a uniform random variable \(U\) defined on the interval \((0,1)\) can be used to give an exponential random variable by applying the transformation \(h(u)= -(1/\lambda)\log(u)\), where \(\lambda>0\), meaning \(h(U)\) is an exponential random variable with parameter \(\lambda>0\) (or mean \(1/\lambda\)).

Similarly for Poisson point processes, the transformation approach is fairly straightforward in a one-dimensional setting, but generally doesn’t work easily in two (or higher) dimensions. The reason being that often we cannot simulate the random variables \(X\) and \(Y\) independently, which means, in practice, we need first to simulate one random variable, then the other.

It is a bit easier if we can re-write the rescaled intensity function or joint probability density \(f(x,y)\) as a product of single-variable functions \(f_X(x)\) and \(f_Y(y)\), meaning the random variables \(X\) and \(Y\) are independent. We can then simulate independently the random variables \(X\) and \(Y\), corresponding to the \(x\) and \(y\) coordinates of the points. But this would still require integrating and inverting the functions.

Markov chain Monte Carlo

A now standard way to simulate jointly distributed random variables is to use  Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC), which we can also use to simulate the the \(X\) and \(Y\) random variables. Applying MCMC methods is simply applying random  point process operations repeatedly to all the points. But this is a bit too tricky and involved. Instead I’ll use a general yet simpler method based on thinning.

Thinning

The thinning method is the arguably the simplest and most general way to simulate an inhomogeneous Poisson point process. If you’re unfamiliar with thinning, I recommend my previous post on thinning and the material I cite.

This simulation method is simply a type of acceptance-rejection method for simulating random variables. More specifically, it is the acceptance-rejection or rejection method, attributed to the great John von Neumann, for simulating a continuous random variable, say \(X\), with some known probability density \(f(x)\). The method accepts/retains or rejects/thins the outcome of each random variable/point depending on the outcome of a uniform random variable associated with each random variable/point.

The thinning or acceptance-rejection method is also appealing because it is an example of a perfect simulation method, which means the distribution of the simulated random variables or points will not be an approximation. This can be contrasted with typical MCMC methods, which, in theory, reach the desired distribution of the random variables in infinite time, which is clearly not possible in practice.

Simulating the homogeneous Poisson point process

First simulate a homogeneous Poisson point process with intensity value \(\lambda^*\), which is an upper bound of the intensity function \(\lambda(x,y)\). The simulation step is the easy part, but what value is \(\lambda^*\)?

I will use the maximum value that the intensity function \(\lambda(x,y)\) takes, which I denote by

$$ \lambda_{\max}:=\max_{(x,y)\in W}\lambda(x,y),$$

so I set \(\lambda^*=\lambda_{\max}\). Of course with \(\lambda^*\) being an upper bound, you can use any larger \(\lambda\)-value, so \(\lambda^*\geq \lambda_{\max}\), but that just means more points will need to be thinned.

Scientific programming languages  have implemented algorithms that find or estimate minima of mathematical functions, meaning such an algorithm just needs to find the \((x,y)\) point that gives the minimum value of \(-\lambda(x,y)\), which corresponds to the maximum value of \(\lambda(x,y)\). What is very important is that the minimization procedure can handle constraints on the \(x\) and \(y\) values, which in our case of a rectangular simulation window \(W\) are sometimes called box constraints.

Thinning the Poisson point process

All we need to do now is to thin the homogeneous Poisson point process with the thinning probability function

$$1-p(x,y)=\frac{\lambda(x,y)}{\lambda^*}.$$

This will randomly remove the points  so the remaining points will form a inhomogeneous Poisson point process with intensity function
$$ (1-p(x,y))\lambda^* =\lambda(x).$$
As a result, we can see that provided \(\lambda^*\geq \lambda_{\max}>0\), this procedure will give the right intensity function \(\lambda(x,y)\).  I’ll skip the details on the point process still being Poisson after thinning, as I have already covered this in the thinning post.

Empirical check

You can run an empirical check by simulating the point process a large number (say \(10^3\) or \(10^4\)) of times, and collect statistics on the number of points. As the number of simulations increases, the average number of points should converge to the intensity measure \(\Lambda(W)\), which is given by (perhaps numerically) evaluating the integral

$$\Lambda(W)=\int_W \lambda(x,y)dxdy.$$

This is a test for the intensity measure, a type of first moment, which will work for the intensity measure of any point process. But for Poisson point processes, the variance of the number of points will also converge to intensity measure \(\Lambda(W)\), giving a second empirical test based on second moments.

An even more thorough test would be estimating an empirical distribution (that is, performing and normalizing a histogram) on the number of points. These checks will validate the number of points, but not the positioning of the points. In my next post I’ll cover how to perform these tests.

Results

The homogeneous Poisson point process with intensity function \(\lambda(x)=100\exp(-(x^2+y^2)/s^2)\), where \(s=0.5\).  The results look similar to those in the thinning post, where the thinned points (that is, red circles) are generated from the same Poisson point process as the one that I have presented here.

MATLAB

Python

Method extensions

We can extend the thinning method for simulating inhomogeneous Poisson point processes a couple different ways.

Using an inhomogeneous Poisson point process

The thinning method does not need to be applied to a homogeneous Poisson point process with intensity \(\lambda^*\). In theory,  we could have simulated a suitably inhomogeneous Poisson point process with intensity function \(\lambda^*(x,y)\), which has the condition

$$ \lambda^*(x,y)\geq \lambda(x,y), \quad \forall (x,y)\in W .$$

Then this Poisson point process is thinned. But then we would still need to simulate the underlying Poisson point process, which often would be as difficult to simulate.

Partitioning the simulation window

Perhaps the intensity of the Poisson point process only takes two values, \(\lambda_1\) and \(\lambda_2\), and the simulation window \(W\) can be nicely divided or partitioned into two disjoints sets \(B_1\) and \(B_2\) (that is, \(B_1\cap B_2=\emptyset\) and \(B_1\cup B_2=W\)), corresponding to the subregions of the two different intensity values.  The Poisson independence property allows us to simulate two independent Poisson point processes on the two subregions.

This approach only works for a piecewise constant intensity function. But if if the intensity function \(\lambda(x)\) varies wildly, the simulation window can be partitioned into subregions \(B_1\dots,B_m\) for different ranges of the intensity function \(\lambda(x)\).  This allows us to simulate independent homogeneous Poisson point processes with different densities \(\lambda^*_1\dots, \lambda^*_m\), where for each subregion \(B_i\) we set

$$ \lambda^*_i:=\max_{x\in B_i}\lambda(x,y).$$

The resulting Poisson point processes are then suitably thinned, resulting in a more efficient simulation method. (Although I imagine the gain would often be small.)

Non-rectangular simulation windows

If you want to simulate on non-rectangular regions, which is not a disk or triangle, then the easiest way is to simulate a Poisson point process on a rectangle \(R\) that completely covers the simulation window, so \(W \subset R\subset \mathbb{R}^2\), and then set the intensity function \(\lambda \) to zero for the region outside the simulation window \(W\), that is \(\lambda (x,y)=0\) when \((x,y)\in R\setminus W\).

Further reading

In Section 2.5.2 of Stochastic Geometry and its Applications by Chiu, Stoyan, Kendall and Mecke, there is an outline of the thinning method that I used.  The same simulation section appears in the previous edition by Kendall and Mecke, though these books in general have little material on simulation methods.

More details on the thinning method and its connection to acceptance-rejection sampling are given in Section 2.3 of the applications-oriented book Poisson Point Processes by Streit. The acceptance-rejection method is covered in, for example, books on Monte Carlo methods, including Monte Carlo Strategies in Scientific Computing by Liu (in Section 2.2 )and Monte Carlo Methods in Financial Engineering by Glasserman (in Section 2.2.2).  This method and others for simulating generals random variable are covered in stochastic simulation books such as Uniform Random Variate Generation by Devroye and Stochastic Simulation: Algorithms and Analysis by Asmussen and Glynn.

Kroese and Botev have a good introduction to stochastic simulation in the edited collection Stochastic Geometry, Spatial Statistics and Random Fields : Models and Algorithms by Schmidt, where the relevant chapter (number 12) is also freely available online.  And of course there are lectures notes on the internet that cover simulation material.

Code

All code from my posts, as always, can be found on the my GitHub repository. The code for this post is located here.  You can see that the code is very similar to that of the thinning code, which served as the foundation for this code. (Note how we now keep the points, so in the code the > has become  < on the line where the uniform variables are generated).

I have implemented the code in MATLAB and Python with an intensity function \(\lambda(x,y)=100\exp(-(x^2+y^2)/s^2)\), where \(s>0\) is a scale parameter.  Note that in the minimization step, the box constraints are expressed differently in MATLAB and Python: MATLAB first takes the minimum values then the maximum values, whereas Python first takes the \(x\)-values then the \(y\)-values.

The code presented here does not have the empirical check, which I described above, but it is implemented in the code located here.  For the parameters used in the code, the total measure is \(\Lambda(W)\approx 77.8068\), meaning each simulation will generate on average almost seventy-eight points.

I have stopped writing code in R for a couple of reasons, but mostly because anything I could think of simulating in R can already be done in the spatial statistics library spatstat. I recommend the book Spatial Point Patterns, co-authored by the spatstat’s main contributor, Adrian Baddeley.

MATLAB

I have used the fmincon function to find the point that gives the minimum of \(-\lambda(x,y)\).

%Simulation window parameters
xMin=-1;xMax=1;
yMin=-1;yMax=1;
xDelta=xMax-xMin;yDelta=yMax-yMin; %rectangle dimensions
areaTotal=xDelta*yDelta; %area of rectangle

s=0.5; %scale parameter

%Point process parameters
fun_lambda=@(x,y)(100*exp(-((x).^2+(y).^2)/s^2));%intensity function

%%%START -- find maximum lambda -- START %%%
%For an intensity function lambda, given by function fun_lambda,
%finds the maximum of lambda in a rectangular region given by
%[xMin,xMax,yMin,yMax].
funNeg=@(x)(-fun_lambda(x(1),x(2))); %negative of lambda
%initial value(ie centre)
xy0=[(xMin+xMax)/2,(yMin+yMax)/2];%initial value(ie centre)
%Set up optimization step
options=optimoptions('fmincon','Display','off');
%Find largest lambda value
[~,lambdaNegMin]=fmincon(funNeg,xy0,[],[],[],[],...
[xMin,yMin],[xMax,yMax],'',options);
lambdaMax=-lambdaNegMin;
%%%END -- find maximum lambda -- END%%%

%define thinning probability function
fun_p=@(x,y)(fun_lambda(x,y)/lambdaMax);

%Simulate Poisson point process
numbPoints=poissrnd(areaTotal*lambdaMax);%Poisson number of points
xx=xDelta*(rand(numbPoints,1))+xMin;%x coordinates of Poisson points
yy=xDelta*(rand(numbPoints,1))+yMin;%y coordinates of Poisson points

%calculate spatially-dependent thinning probabilities
p=fun_p(xx,yy);

%Generate Bernoulli variables (ie coin flips) for thinning
booleRetained=rand(numbPoints,1)<p; %points to be thinned

%x/y locations of retained points
xxRetained=xx(booleRetained); yyRetained=yy(booleRetained);

%Plotting
plot(xxRetained,yyRetained,'bo'); %plot retained points
xlabel('x');ylabel('y');

The box constraints for the optimization step were expressed as:

[xMin,yMin],[xMax,yMax]
Python

I have used the minimize function in SciPy.

import numpy as np; #NumPy package for arrays, random number generation, etc
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt #For plotting
from scipy.optimize import minimize #For optimizing
from scipy import integrate

#Simulation window parameters
xMin=-1;xMax=1;
yMin=-1;yMax=1;
xDelta=xMax-xMin;yDelta=yMax-yMin; #rectangle dimensions
areaTotal=xDelta*yDelta;

s=0.5; #scale parameter

#Point process parameters
def fun_lambda(x,y):
   return 100*np.exp(-(x**2+y**2)/s**2); #intensity function

###START -- find maximum lambda -- START ###
#For an intensity function lambda, given by function fun_lambda,
#finds the maximum of lambda in a rectangular region given by
#[xMin,xMax,yMin,yMax].
def fun_Neg(x):
   return -fun_lambda(x[0],x[1]); #negative of lambda

xy0=[(xMin+xMax)/2,(yMin+yMax)/2];#initial value(ie centre)
#Find largest lambda value
resultsOpt=minimize(fun_Neg,xy0,bounds=((xMin, xMax), (yMin, yMax)));
lambdaNegMin=resultsOpt.fun; #retrieve minimum value found by minimize
lambdaMax=-lambdaNegMin;
###END -- find maximum lambda -- END ###

#define thinning probability function
def fun_p(x,y):
   return fun_lambda(x,y)/lambdaMax;

#Simulate a Poisson point process
numbPoints = np.random.poisson(lambdaMax*areaTotal);#Poisson number of points
xx = np.random.uniform(0,xDelta,((numbPoints,1)))+xMin;#x coordinates of Poisson points
yy = np.random.uniform(0,yDelta,((numbPoints,1)))+yMin;#y coordinates of Poisson points

#calculate spatially-dependent thinning probabilities
p=fun_p(xx,yy);

#Generate Bernoulli variables (ie coin flips) for thinning
booleRetained=np.random.uniform(0,1,((numbPoints,1)))<p; #points to be thinned

#x/y locations of retained points
xxRetained=xx[booleRetained]; yyRetained=yy[booleRetained];

#Plotting
plt.scatter(xxRetained,yyRetained, edgecolor='b', facecolor='none', alpha=0.5 );
plt.xlabel("x"); plt.ylabel("y");
plt.show();

The box constraints  were expressed as:

(xMin, xMax), (yMin, yMax)
Julia

After writing this post, I later wrote the code in Julia. The code is here and my thoughts about Julia are here.

Thinning point processes

One way to create new point processes is to apply thinning to a point process. As I mentioned in a previous post on point process operations, thinning is a random operation applied to the points of an underlying point process, where the points are thinned (or removed) or retained (or kept) according to some probabilistic rule. Both the thinned and retained points form two separate point processes, but one usually focuses on the retained points. Given an underlying point process, the complexity of the thinning rule will result in different types of point processes.

Thinning types

Thinning can be statistically independent or dependent, meaning that the probability of thinning any point is either independent or dependent of thinning other points. The more tractable case is statistically independent thinning, which is the thinning type covered here. We can further group this thinning into two types based on whether the thinning rule depends on the locations of the point. (I use the word location, instead of point, to refer to where a point of a point process is located on the underlying mathematical space on which the point process is defined.)

Spatially independent thinning

The simplest thinning operation is one that does not depend on point locations. This thinning is sometimes referred to as \(p\)-thinning, where the constant \(p\) has the condition \(0\leq p \leq 1\) because it is the probability of thinning a single point. Simply put, the probability of a point being thinned does not depend on the point locations.

Example

We can liken the thinning action to flipping a biased coin with probability of \(p\) for heads (or tails) for each point of the underlying point process, and then removing the point if a head (or tails) occurs. If there were a constant number \(n\) of points of the underlying point process, then the number of thinned (or retained) points will form a binomial random variable with parameters \(n\) and \(p\) (or \(1-p\)).

Simulation

Simulating this thinning operation is rather straightforward. Given a realization of a point process, for each point a uniform random variable on the interval \((0,1)\), simply generate or simulate, and if this random variable is less than \(p\), remove the point. In the code section below, I have shown how this thinning operation is implemented.

Spatially dependent thinning

To generalize the idea of \(p\)-thinning, we can simply require that the thinning probability of any point depends on its location \(x\), which gives us the concept of \(p(x)\)-thinning. (I write a single \(x\) to denote a point on the plane, that is \(x\in \mathbb{R}^2\), instead of writing, for example, the \(x\) and \(y\) and coordinates separately.) More precisely, the probability of thinning a point is given by a function \(p(x)\) such that \(0 \leq p(x)\leq 1\), but all point thinnings occur independently of each other. In other words, this is a spatially dependent thinning that is statistically independent.

Example

I’ll illustrate the concept of spatially dependent thinning with a somewhat contrived example. We assume that the living locations of all the people in the world form a point process on a (slightly squashed) sphere. Let’s say that Earth has become overpopulated, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, so we decide to randomly choose people and send them off to another galaxy, but we do it based on how far they live from the North Pole. The thinning rule is, for example, \(p(x)= \exp(- |x|^2/s^2)\), where \(|x|\) is the distance to the North Pole and \(s>0\) is some constant for distance scaling.

Put another way, a person at location \(x\) flips a biased coin with the probability of, say, heads being equal to \(p(x)=\exp(- |x|^2/s^2)\). If a head comes up, then that person is removed from the planet. With the maximum of \(p(x)\) is at the North Pole, we can see that the lucky (or unlucky?) people in countries like Australia, NZ, South Africa, Argentina and Chile, are more likely not to be sent off (that is, thinned). For people who live comparable distances from the North Pole, the removal probabilities are similar in value, yet the events of being remove remain independent. For example, the probabilities of removing any two people from Lesotho are similar in value, but these two random events are still completely independent of each other.

Simulation

Simulating a spatially dependent thinning is just slightly more involved than the spatially independent case. Given a realization of a point process, for each point at, say, \(x\), simply generate or simulate a uniform random variable on the interval \((0,1)\), and if this random variable is less than \(p(x)\), remove the point.

In the code section, I have shown how this thinning operation is implemented with an example like the above one, but on a rectangular region of Cartesian space. In this setting, the maximum of \(p(x)\) is at the origin, resulting in more points being thinned in this region.

Thinning a Poisson point process

Perhaps not surprisingly, under the thinning operation the Poisson point process exhibits a closure property, meaning that a Poisson point process thinned in a certain way gives another Poisson point process.  More precisely, if the thinning operation is statistically independent, then the resulting point process formed from the retained points is also a Poisson point process, regardless if it is spatially independent or dependent thinning. The resulting intensity (interpreted as the average density of points) of this new Poisson point process has a simple expression.

Homogeneous case

For a spatially independent \(p\)-thinning, if the original (or underlying) Poisson point process is homogeneous with intensity \(\lambda\), then the point process formed from the retained points is a homogeneous Poisson point process with intensity \(\lambda\).  (There are different ways to prove this, but you can gain some intuition behind the proof by conditioning on the Poisson number of points and then applying the total law of probability. Using generating functions helps.)

Inhomogeneous case

More generally, if we apply a spatially dependent \(p(x)\)-thinning to a  Poisson point process has a intensity \(\lambda\), then the retained points form a  an inhomogeneous or nonhomogeneous Poisson point process with \(\lambda p(x)\),  due to the spatial dependence in the thinning function \(p(x)\). This gives a way to simulate such Poisson point processes, which I’ll cover in another post.

Splitting

We can see by symmetry that if we look at the thinned points, then the resulting point process is also a Poisson point process, but with intensity \((1-p(x))\lambda\). The retained and thinned points both form Poisson point processes, but what is really interesting is these two point processes are independent of each other.  This means that any random configuration that occurs among the retained points is independent of any configurations among the thinned points.

This ability to split a Poisson point processes into independent ones is sometimes called the splitting property.

Possible applications

Thinning point processes has the immediate application of creating new point processes. It can also be used to randomly generate two point processes from one. In network applications, a simple example is using the thinning procedure to model random sleep schemes in wireless networks, where random subsets of the network have been powered down.

Code

All code from my posts, as always, can be found on the my GitHub repository. The code for this post is located here.

Spatially independent thinning

I have implemented in code the simple \(p\)-thinning operation applied to a Poisson point process on a rectangle, but in theory any point process can be used for the underlying point process that is thinned.

MATLAB

%Simulation window parameters
xMin=-1;xMax=1;
yMin=-1;yMax=1;
xDelta=xMax-xMin;yDelta=yMax-yMin; %rectangle dimensions
areaTotal=xDelta*yDelta; %area of rectangle

%Point process parameters
lambda=100; %intensity (ie mean density) of the Poisson process

%Thinning probability parameters
sigma=1;
p=0.25; %thinning probability

%Simulate Poisson point process
numbPoints=poissrnd(areaTotal*lambda);%Poisson number of points
xx=xDelta*(rand(numbPoints,1))+xMin;%x coordinates of Poisson points
yy=xDelta*(rand(numbPoints,1))+yMin;%y coordinates of Poisson points

%Generate Bernoulli variables (ie coin flips) for thinning
booleThinned=rand(numbPoints,1)>p; %points to be thinned
booleRetained=~booleThinned; %points to be retained

%x/y locations of thinned points
xxThinned=xx(booleThinned); yyThinned=yy(booleThinned);
%x/y locations of retained points
xxRetained=xx(booleRetained); yyRetained=yy(booleRetained);

%Plotting
plot(xxRetained,yyRetained,'bo'); %plot retained points
hold on; plot(xxThinned,yyThinned,'ro'); %plot thinned points
xlabel('x');ylabel('y');

R

#Simulation window parameters
xMin=-1;xMax=1;
yMin=-1;yMax=1;
xDelta=xMax-xMin;yDelta=yMax-yMin; #rectangle dimensions
areaTotal=xDelta*yDelta;

#Point process parameters
lambda=100; #intensity (ie mean density) of the Poisson process

#Thinning probability
p=0.25; 

#Simulate a Poisson point process
numbPoints=rpois(1,areaTotal*lambda);#Poisson number of points
xx=xDelta*runif(numbPoints)+xMin;#x coordinates of Poisson points
yy=xDelta*runif(numbPoints)+yMin;#y coordinates of Poisson points

#Generate Bernoulli variables (ie coin flips) for thinning
booleThinned=runif(numbPoints)>p; #points to be thinned
booleRetained=!booleThinned; #points to be retained

#x/y locations of thinned points
xxThinned=xx[booleThinned]; yyThinned=yy[booleThinned];
#x/y locations of retained points
xxRetained=xx[booleRetained]; yyRetained=yy[booleRetained];

#Plotting
par(pty="s")
plot(xxRetained,yyRetained,'p',xlab='x',ylab='y',col='blue'); #plot retained points
points(xxThinned,yyThinned,col='red'); #plot thinned points

Of course, as I have mentioned before, simulating a spatial point processes in R is even easier with the powerful spatial statistics library spatstat.  With this library, thinning can be done in quite a general way by using the function rthin.

Python

import numpy as np; #NumPy package for arrays, random number generation, etc
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

#Simulation window parameters
xMin=-1;xMax=1;
yMin=-1;yMax=1;
xDelta=xMax-xMin;yDelta=yMax-yMin; #rectangle dimensions
areaTotal=xDelta*yDelta;

#Point process parameters
lambda0=100; #intensity (ie mean density) of the Poisson process

#Thinning probability
p=0.25; 

#Simulate a Poisson point process
numbPoints = np.random.poisson(lambda0*areaTotal);#Poisson number of points
xx = np.random.uniform(0,xDelta,((numbPoints,1)))+xMin;#x coordinates of Poisson points
yy = np.random.uniform(0,yDelta,((numbPoints,1)))+yMin;#y coordinates of Poisson points

#Generate Bernoulli variables (ie coin flips) for thinning
booleThinned=np.random.uniform(0,1,((numbPoints,1)))>p; #points to be thinned
booleRetained=~booleThinned; #points to be retained

#x/y locations of thinned points
xxThinned=xx[booleThinned]; yyThinned=yy[booleThinned];
#x/y locations of retained points
xxRetained=xx[booleRetained]; yyRetained=yy[booleRetained];

#Plotting
plt.scatter(xxRetained,yyRetained, edgecolor='b', facecolor='none', alpha=0.5 );
plt.scatter(xxThinned,yyThinned, edgecolor='r', facecolor='none', alpha=0.5 );
plt.xlabel("x"); plt.ylabel("y");
plt.show(); 
Spatially dependent thinning

I have implemented in code a \(p(x)\)-thinning operation with the function \(p(x)=\exp(-|x|^2/s^2)\), where \(|x|\) is the Euclidean distance from \(x\) to the origin. This small changes means that in the code there will be a vector or array of \(p\) values instead of a single \(p\) value in the section where the uniform random variables are generated and compared said \(p\) values.  (Lines 24, 26 and 28 respectively in the MATLAB, R and Python code presented below.)

Again, I have applied thinning to a Poisson point process on a rectangle, but in theory any point process can be used for the underlying point process.

MATLAB

%Simulation window parameters
xMin=-1;xMax=1;
yMin=-1;yMax=1;
xDelta=xMax-xMin;yDelta=yMax-yMin; %rectangle dimensions
areaTotal=xDelta*yDelta; %area of rectangle
 
%Point process parameters
lambda=100; %intensity (ie mean density) of the Poisson process

%Thinning probability parameters
sigma=0.5; %scale parameter for thinning probability function
%define thinning probability function
fun_p=@(s,x,y)(exp(-(x.^2+y.^2)/s^2)); 

%Simulate Poisson point process
numbPoints=poissrnd(areaTotal*lambda);%Poisson number of points
xx=xDelta*(rand(numbPoints,1))+xMin;%x coordinates of Poisson points
yy=xDelta*(rand(numbPoints,1))+yMin;%y coordinates of Poisson points

%calculate spatially-dependent thinning probabilities
p=fun_p(sigma,xx,yy); 

%Generate Bernoulli variables (ie coin flips) for thinning
booleThinned=rand(numbPoints,1)>p; %points to be thinned
booleRetained=~booleThinned; %points to be retained

%x/y locations of thinned points
xxThinned=xx(booleThinned); yyThinned=yy(booleThinned);
%x/y locations of retained points
xxRetained=xx(booleRetained); yyRetained=yy(booleRetained);

%Plotting
plot(xxRetained,yyRetained,'bo'); %plot retained points
hold on; plot(xxThinned,yyThinned,'ro'); %plot thinned points
xlabel('x');ylabel('y');

R

#Simulation window parameters
xMin=-1;xMax=1;
yMin=-1;yMax=1;
xDelta=xMax-xMin;yDelta=yMax-yMin; #rectangle dimensions
areaTotal=xDelta*yDelta;

#Point process parameters
lambda=100; #intensity (ie mean density) of the Poisson process

#Thinning probability parameters
sigma=0.5; #scale parameter for thinning probability function
#define thinning probability function
fun_p <- function(s,x,y) {
  exp(-(x^2 + y^2)/s^2);
}

#Simulate a Poisson point process
numbPoints=rpois(1,areaTotal*lambda);#Poisson number of points
xx=xDelta*runif(numbPoints)+xMin;#x coordinates of Poisson points
yy=xDelta*runif(numbPoints)+yMin;#y coordinates of Poisson points

#calculate spatially-dependent thinning probabilities
p=fun_p(sigma,xx,yy); 

#Generate Bernoulli variables (ie coin flips) for thinning
booleThinned=runif(numbPoints)<p; #points to be thinned
booleRetained=!booleThinned; #points to be retained

#x/y locations of thinned points
xxThinned=xx[booleThinned]; yyThinned=yy[booleThinned];
#x/y locations of retained points
xxRetained=xx[booleRetained]; yyRetained=yy[booleRetained];

#Plotting
par(pty="s")
plot(xxRetained,yyRetained,'p',xlab='x',ylab='y',col='blue'); #plot retained points
points(xxThinned,yyThinned,col='red'); #plot thinned points

Again, use the spatial statistics library spatstat, which has the function rthin.

Python

import numpy as np; #NumPy package for arrays, random number generation, etc
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

#Simulation window parameters
xMin=-1;xMax=1;
yMin=-1;yMax=1;
xDelta=xMax-xMin;yDelta=yMax-yMin; #rectangle dimensions
areaTotal=xDelta*yDelta;

#Point process parameters
lambda0=100; #intensity (ie mean density) of the Poisson process

#Thinning probability parameters
sigma=0.5; #scale parameter for thinning probability function
#define thinning probability function
def fun_p(s, x, y):
    return np.exp(-(x**2+y**2)/s**2);    

#Simulate a Poisson point process
numbPoints = np.random.poisson(lambda0*areaTotal);#Poisson number of points
xx = np.random.uniform(0,xDelta,((numbPoints,1)))+xMin;#x coordinates of Poisson points
yy = np.random.uniform(0,yDelta,((numbPoints,1)))+yMin;#y coordinates of Poisson points

#calculate spatially-dependent thinning probabilities
p=fun_p(sigma,xx,yy); 

#Generate Bernoulli variables (ie coin flips) for thinning
booleThinned=np.random.uniform(0,1,((numbPoints,1)))>p; #points to be thinned
booleRetained=~booleThinned; #points to be retained

#x/y locations of thinned points
xxThinned=xx[booleThinned]; yyThinned=yy[booleThinned];
#x/y locations of retained points
xxRetained=xx[booleRetained]; yyRetained=yy[booleRetained];

#Plotting
plt.scatter(xxRetained,yyRetained, edgecolor='b', facecolor='none', alpha=0.5 );
plt.scatter(xxThinned,yyThinned, edgecolor='r', facecolor='none', alpha=0.5 );
plt.xlabel("x"); plt.ylabel("y");
plt.show(); 

Results

In the plotted results, the blue and red circles represent respectively the retained and thinned points.

Spatially independent thinning

For these results, I used a thinning probability \(p=0.25\), which means that roughly a quater of the points will be thinned, so on average the ratio of blue to red circles is three to one.

MATLAB

R

Python

Spatially dependent thinning

Observe how there are more thinned points (that is, red circles) near the origin, which is of course where the thinning function \(p(x)=\exp(-|x|^2/s^2)\) attains its maximum.

MATLAB

R

Python

Further reading

The thinning operation is covered in Stochastic Geometry and its Applications by Chiu, Stoyan, Kendall and Mecke (Chapter 5). It is also covered in the book Statistical Inference and Simulation for Spatial Point Processes by Moller and Waagepetersen (Section 3.2.2). Kallenberg presents a more theoretical and rigorous take on thinning Poisson point processes in of his new book Random Measures, Theory and Applications (Chapter 3). (A point process can be interpreted as a type of random measure called a random counting measure because it gives the random number of points in a set.)

Thinning is also covered in books that apply point processes to wireless networks, such as Stochastic Geometry and Wireless Networks by Baccelli and Błaszczyszyn (Volume 1, Section 1.3.2) or Stochastic Geometry for Wireless Networks (Section 2.7.3) by Haenggi. These books also give examples of thinning point processes for wireless network applications.

 

Beyond the Poisson point process

As great as the Poisson point process is — and it is pretty great — it is sadly not always suitable for mathematical models. The tractability of this point process is due to the independence of the locations of its points. Informally, this means that point locations of  a Poisson point process in any region will not affect the probability of finding other points in some other region. But such independence may not be true or even approximately true when trying to develop a mathematical model for certain phenomena.

Clustering and Repulsion

One can quickly think of examples where the Poisson point process is not a suitable model. For example, if a star is part of a galaxy, then it is more likely that another star will be located nearby. Conversely, given the location of a tree in the forest, then usually it is less likely to then find another tree relatively nearby, because trees need a certain amount of land to draw water from the earth.  In the language of point processes, we say that the stars tend to show clustering, while the trees tend to show repulsion.

To better model phenomena like like trees and stars, we can use point processes that also exhibit the properties of clustering and repulsion. In fact, a good part of spatial statistics has been dedicated to developing statistical tools for testing if repulsion or clustering exists in observed point patterns, which is the spatial statistics term used for samples of objects that can be represented as points in space. (A point process is a random object, so a single realization or outcome of a point process is an example of a point pattern.)

The Poisson point process lies halfway between these two categories, meaning that its points show an equal degree of clustering and repulsion. Mathematically, this can be made more formal by, for example, using something called factorial moment measures, which are mathematical objects used to study point processes.

For probability applications, Błaszczyszyn and Yogeshwaran developed a framework using factorial moment measures, which allowed them to classify point process into what they called super-Poisson and sub-Poisson, referring respectively to point processes with points that tend to cluster and repel more.

Point Process Operations

If a Poisson point processes is not suitable for certain models, then we need to develop and use other point processes that exhibit clustering or repulsion. Fortunately, one way to develop such point processes is to apply certain point process operations to Poisson and point processes in general. For developing new point processes, researchers have largely studied three types types of point process operations: thinning, superposition, and clustering. (But there are other operations one can apply to a point process such as randomly moving the points.)

Thinning

To apply the thinning operation means to use some rule for selectively removing points from a point process \(\Phi\) to form a new point process \(\Phi_p\). A rule may be purely random such as the rule known as \(p\)-thinning. For this rule, each point of \(\Phi\) is independently removed (or kept) with some probability \(p\) (or \(1-p\)). This thinning method can be likened to looking at each point, flipping a biased coin with probability \(p\) for heads, and removing the point if a head occurs.

This rule may be generalized by introducing a non-negative function \(p(x)\leq 1\), where \(x\) is a point in the space on which the point process is defined.  This allows us to define a location-dependent \(p(x)\)-thinning, where now the probability of a point being removed is \(p(x)\) and is dependent on where the point \(x\) of \(\Phi\) is located on the underlying space.

The thinning operation is very useful, and I will write more about it in another post, including some examples implemented in code.

Superposition

The superposition of two or more point processes simply means taking the union of two or more point processes. (Point processes can be considered as random sets, which is why point process notation consists of notation from set theory, as well as other mathematical branches.)

More formally, if there is a countable collection of point processes \(\Phi_1,\Phi_2\dots\), then their superposition
\[
\Phi=\bigcup_{i=1}^{\infty}\Phi_i,
\]
also forms a point process. If the point processes are all independent and Poisson, then the superposition will be another Poisson point process, meaning we have not produced a new point process.

Clustering

Related to superposition is a point operation known as clustering, which entails replacing every point \(x\) in a given point process \(\Phi\) with a cluster of points \(N^x\). Each cluster is also a point process, but with a finite number of points. The union of all the clusters forms a cluster point process,  that is
\[
\Phi_c=\bigcup_{x\in \Phi}N^x.
\]

In two previous blogs I have already used this point process operation to construct the Matérn and Thomas (cluster) point processes, which both involve using an underlying Poisson point process. Each point of this point process was assigned a Poisson random number of points, and then the points were uniformly scattered on a disk (for Matérn) or scattered according to a two-dimensional normal distribution (for Thomas). They are members of a family of point processes called Neyman-Scott point processes.

Clustering or repulsion?

I mentioned earlier that in spatial statistics there are statistical tools for testing if clustering or repulsion exists in observed point patterns, usually by comparing it to the Poisson point process, which often serves as a benchmark. For example, in spatial statistics the second factorial moment measure is used for the descriptive statistic called Ripley’s \(K\)-function and its rescaled version, Ripley’s \(L\)-function.  Keeping with the alphabetical theme, another example of such a statistic is the \(J\)-function, which was introduced by Van Lieshout and Baddeley.

Further reading

For spatial statistics in general, I always recommend the book Spatial Point Patterns: Methodology and Applications with R written by spatial statistics experts Baddeley, Rubak and Turner, which covers the spatial statistics (and point process simulation) R-package spatstat. This book covers statistically testing point patterns to see if they exhibit more clustering or repulsion, with details for the relevant functions in  spatstat.  For an introduction on factorial moment framework by Błaszczyszyn and Yogeshwaran for clustering and repulsion comparison, see this chapter from a published collection of of lecture notes.

In Chapter 5 of the classic text Stochastic Geometry and its Applications by Chiu, Stoyan, Kendall and Meck, the point process operations thinning are described and used to construct new point processes.  The similar material is covered in the previous edition by Stoyan, Kendall and Mecke. On a more theoretical level, operations of point processes are covered in Daley and Vere-Jones. (The convergence results are now a little dated, because there are various convergence for point processes results based on Stein’s method, which are not included in the book.)

See the previous posts for details and citations on the  Matérn and Thomas (cluster) point processes.