The Rapid Carbon Assessment (RaCA) project was conducted by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service between 2010–2012 in order to provide contemporaneous measurements of soil organic carbon (SOC) across the US. Despite the broad extent of the RaCA data collection effort, direct observations of SOC are not available at the high spatial resolution needed for studying carbon storage in soil and its implications for important problems in climate science and agriculture. As a result, there is a need for predicting SOC at spatial locations not included as part of the RaCA project. In this paper, we compare spatial prediction of SOC using a subset of the RaCA data for a variety of statistical methods. We investigate the performance of methods with off-the-shelf software available (both stationary and nonstationary) as well as a novel nonstationary approach based on partitioning relevant spatially-varying covariate processes. Our new method addresses open questions regarding (1) how to partition the spatial domain for segmentation-based nonstationary methods, (2) incorporating partially observed covariates into a spatial model, and (3) accounting for uncertainty in the partitioning. In applying the various statistical methods we find that there are minimal differences in out-of-sample criteria for this particular data set, however, there are major differences in maps of uncertainty in SOC predictions. We argue that the spatially-varying measures of prediction uncertainty produced by our new approach are valuable to decision makers, as they can be used to better benchmark mechanistic models, identify target areas for soil restoration projects, and inform carbon sequestration projects.
"Nonstationary spatial prediction of soil organic carbon: Implications for stock assessment decision making." Ann. Appl. Stat. 13 (1) 165 - 188, March 2019. https://doi.org/10.1214/18-AOAS1204