Partitioning Using Local Subregions


Cluster analysis (or clustering) attempts to group observations into clusters so that the observations within a cluster are similar to each other while different from those in other clusters. It is often used when dealing with the question of discovering structure in data where no known group labels exist or when there might be some question about whether the data contain groups that correspond to a measured grouping variable. Therefore, cluster analysis is considered a type of unsupervised learning. It is used in many fields including statistics, machine learning, and image analysis, to name just a few. For a general introduction to cluster analysis, see Everitt and Hothorn (2011, Chapter 6).

Commonly used clustering methods are \(k\)-means (MacQueen, 1967) and Ward’s hierarchical clustering (Murtagh and Legendre, 2014; Ward, 1963), which are both implemented in functions kmeans and hclust, respectively, in the stats package in R (R Core Team, 2019). They belong to a group of methods called polythetic clustering (MacNaughton-Smith et al., 1964) which use combined information of variables to partition data and generate groups of observations that are similar on average. Monothetic cluster analysis (Chavent, 1998; Piccarreta and Billari, 2007; Sneath and Sokal, 1973), on the other hand, is a clustering algorithm that provides a hierarchical, recursive partitioning of multivariate responses based on binary decision rules that are built from individual response variables. It creates clusters that contain shared characteristics that are defined by these rules.

In an application of clustering to Arctic sea ice extent data comprising daily measurements from 1978 to present (Fetterer et al., 2018), we faced a challenge choosing one splitting variable among multiple equally qualified variables in monothetic clustering when applied to functional data. This happens because there are very similar observations in small intervals of time when the observations are smooth curves. A new clustering algorithm called Partitioning Using Local Subregions (PULS) that provides a method of clustering functional data using subregion information is implemented in the R package puls. It is designed to complement the fda and fda.usc packages (Febrero-Bande and Fuente, 2012; Ramsay et al., 2018) in clustering functional data objects.

Partitioning Using Local Subregions (PULS)

Measurements \(y\) taken over some ordered index such as time, frequency, or space and thought of as curves or functions of the index \(t\) and/or other predictors are called functional data and denoted as \(y(t)\) (Ramsay and Silverman, 2005). Functional data have, possibly, a high frequency of observations over the index \(t\) and are assumed to be generated by a smooth underlying process. Some examples of data that can be treated as functional include the growth curves for girls in the Berkeley Growth Study (Tuddenham and Snyder, 1954), hydraulic gradients in wetlands (Greenwood et al., 2011), or daily ice extent over years in the Arctic Sea (Fetterer et al., 2020). Clustering can be useful for functional data to find groups of curves sharing common characteristics and to find representative curves corresponding to different modes of variation in the data.

Functional clustering requires (1) construction of a functional data object and (2) application of a clustering algorithm either to the functional data directly or to a distance matrix calculated from the functional data. In R (R Core Team, 2020), Ramsay et al. (2018) created a package named fda to do the former task and function metric.lp in fda.usc (Febrero-Bande and Fuente, 2012) is designed to find the \(L_2\) distance matrix for functional data in the latter approach.

In some functional data applications, there is pre-existing knowledge of regions of interest such as intervals of time where the curves are expected to be very different from each other. Partitioning using local subregions (PULS) is a clustering technique designed to explore subregions of functional data for information to split the curves into clusters. After defining the subregions \([a_1, b_1], [a_2, b_2], \ldots, [a_R, b_R]\), the Euclidean (\(L_2\)) distance is calculated between functions \(y_i(t)\) and \(y_j(t)\) (Febrero-Bande and Fuente, 2012) using the function metric.lp in fda.usc to provide \[d_R(y_i, y_j) = \sqrt{\int_{a_r}^{b_r} [y_i(t) – y_j(t)]^2 dt}\] and obtain a dissimilarity matrix for each subregion, \(r = 1, \ldots, R\). Adapting the idea of the monothetic clustering algorithm, each subregion is separately considered as a splitting candidate for the next 2-group partitioning, using commonly used clustering techniques such as \(k\)-means (MacQueen, 1967), Ward’s method (Ward, 1963), or partitioning around medoids (PAM, Kaufman and Rousseeuw, 1990). An inertia-like criterion is again used as the global criterion for selecting each split. Among the \(K\) candidate splits, one from each subregion, the one having the largest decrease in inertia will be chosen as the best split. The algorithm is then recursively applied to the resulting sub-partitions until a specified number of partitions is reached or a stopping rule is met.

The PULS algorithm was inspired by monothetic clustering and shares many features such as inertia as the global criterion, a recursive bi-partitioning method, and the same stopping rules. However, the idea and applications of PULS are different enough to store in a separate R package, which we named puls. Indeed, puls borrows many private functions from monoClust (Tran et al., 2020) such as the splitting rule tree, recursively checking for the best splitting subregion, tree-based displays of results, etc. An example of a usage of the main function of the package, PULS, to the Arctic ice extent data with subregions defined by months follows.

#> Loading required package: splines
#> Loading required package: Matrix
#> Loading required package: fds
#> Loading required package: rainbow
#> Loading required package: MASS
#> Loading required package: pcaPP
#> Loading required package: RCurl
#> Attaching package: 'fda'
#> The following object is masked from 'package:graphics':
#>     matplot
# Build a simple fd object from already smoothed smoothed_arctic
NBASIS <- 300
y <- t(as.matrix(smoothed_arctic[, -1]))
splinebasis <- create.bspline.basis(rangeval = c(1, 365),
                                    nbasis = NBASIS,
                                    norder = NORDER)
fdParobj <- fdPar(fdobj = splinebasis,
                  Lfdobj = 2,
                  # No need for any more smoothing
                  lambda = .000001)
yfd <- smooth.basis(argvals = 1:365, y = y, fdParobj = fdParobj)
Jan <- c(1, 31)
Feb <- c(31, 59)
Mar <- c(59, 90)
Apr <- c(90, 120)
May <- c(120, 151)
Jun <- c(151, 181)
Jul <- c(181, 212)
Aug <- c(212, 243)
Sep <- c(243, 273)
Oct <- c(273, 304)
Nov <- c(304, 334)
Dec <- c(334, 365)

intervals <- rbind(Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec)

PULS4_pam <- PULS(toclust.fd = yfd$fd, intervals = intervals, nclusters = 4, method = "pam")

Four cluster result of PULS on Arctic ice extent data for years 1979-1986, 1989-2013.

The required arguments in PULS are an fd object created by applying the smooth.basis function and the list in a matrix of specified intervals for the subregions of \(t\). Other arguments in PULS function include:

Constrained Version

In a data set, not all variables are created equal. Some variables are easier or cheaper to measure than others. For example, a data set on human vital information may include body fat percentage, height, and weight. Height and weight are much easier to obtain accurate measurements for than body fat percentage. If the data can be partitioned using only these easy-to-measure variables and the results are comparable to using all variables, it can help reduce effort and cost in the future studies where new subjects could be placed in clusters using easy or cheap to measure variables only.

PULS algorithm implemented in the puls packages have options to limit the splitting candidates to a subset of variables (in case of monothetic) or subregions (in case of PULS) by specifying the argument spliton =. The following code limits the subset of splitting variables only to summer months (August and September) of the Arctic ice extent data. Besides the benefits of reducing effort and cost in future studies, the constrained version of the algorithm also speeds up the running time, making the cluster estimation faster.

constrained_PULS <- PULS(yfd$fd, intervals = intervals, nclusters = 4, spliton = 7:9, 
    method = "pam")
#> n = 39 
#> Node) Split, N, Cluster Inertia, Proportion Inertia Explained,  
#>       * denotes terminal node
#> 1) root 39 8453.2190 0.7072663   
#>   2) Jul 15  885.3640 0.8431711   
#>     4) Aug 8  311.7792   *
#>     5) Aug 7  178.8687   *
#>   3) Jul 24 1589.1780 0.7964770   
#>     6) Jul 13  463.8466   *
#>     7) Jul 11  371.2143   *
#> Note: One or more of the splits chosen had an alternative split that reduced inertia by the same amount. See "alt" column of "frame" object for details.