Variance component estimation uncertainty for unbalanced data: application to a continent-wide vertical datum

M. S. Filmer, W. E. Featherstone, S. J. Claessens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Variance component estimation (VCE) is used to update the stochastic model in least-squares adjustments, but the uncertainty associated with the VCE-derived weights is rarely considered. Unbalanced data is where there is an unequal number of observations in each heterogeneous data set comprising the variance component groups. As a case study using highly unbalanced data, we redefine a continent-wide vertical datum from a combined least-squares adjustment using iterative VCE and its uncertainties to update weights for each data set. These are: (1) a continent-wide levelling network, (2) a model of the ocean’s mean dynamic topography and mean sea level observations, and (3) GPS-derived ellipsoidal heights minus a gravimetric quasigeoid model. VCE uncertainty differs for each observation group in the highly unbalanced data, being dependent on the number of observations in each group. It also changes within each group after each VCE iteration, depending on the magnitude of change for each observation group’s variances. It is recommended that VCE uncertainty is computed for VCE updates to the weight matrix for unbalanced data so that the quality of the updates for each group can be properly assessed. This is particularly important if some groups contain relatively small numbers of observations. VCE uncertainty can also be used as a threshold for ceasing iterations, as it is shown—for this data set at least—that it is not necessary to continue time-consuming iterations to fully converge to unity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1081-1093
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Geodesy
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes


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