Optimal heavy tail estimation – Part 1: Order selection
Abstract. The tail probability, P, of the distribution of a variable is important for risk analysis of extremes. Many variables in complex geophysical systems show heavy tails, where P decreases with the value, x, of a variable as a power law with a characteristic exponent, α. Accurate estimation of α on the basis of data is currently hindered by the problem of the selection of the order, that is, the number of largest x values to utilize for the estimation. This paper presents a new, widely applicable, data-adaptive order selector, which is based on computer simulations and brute force search. It is the first in a set of papers on optimal heavy tail estimation. The new selector outperforms competitors in a Monte Carlo experiment, where simulated data are generated from stable distributions and AR(1) serial dependence. We calculate error bars for the estimated α by means of simulations. We illustrate the method on an artificial time series. We apply it to an observed, hydrological time series from the River Elbe and find an estimated characteristic exponent of 1.48 ± 0.13. This result indicates finite mean but infinite variance of the statistical distribution of river runoff.